GAA Football

Louth boss Pete McGrath looks ahead to visit of Down for Division Two opener

Pete McGrath looks on from the sideline as Louth take on Longford in the O'Byrne Cup on Saturday
Andy Watters

PETE McGrath left Newry with two points in the bag when he took Fermanagh to Pairc Esler for their Division Two opener in 2017.

In just under four weeks’ time he faces his native county once again, this time as manager of a Louth side that was promoted from Division Three last year. Colin Kelly, the architect of that success, stepped down after a disappointing Championship campaign and McGrath, who led Down to All-Ireland titles in 1991 and 1994, was snapped up to replace him after he had parted company with the Ernemen.

His first competitive outing with ‘the Wee County’ ended in defeat on Saturday when Longford won an entertaining O’Byrne Cup clash at the impressive Louth Centre of Excellence grounds at Darver. That loss means victory over Kildare on Wednesday night is essential if Louth are to make the semi-finals and go into a sink-or-swim Division Two campaign with winning momentum.

“It’s a home game and we only have three home matches,” said McGrath as he looked ahead to the visit of Down on January 28.

“It’s a tough League and to have any real prospect of doing well in the League – and we can do well – then I think a home match and the fact that it’s the first match gives it added significance.

“It will be important that we have something very close to our strongest team out to produce the performance that is going to be needed to get a win against an accomplished team like Down. They were Ulster finalists last year so it’s a tough start but I’m confident that if we work hard over the next four weeks and have all our players there we’ll be in a position to compete with Down.”

Louth, then managed by Aidan O’Rourke, finished fourth in Division Two in 2013 but were relegated the following season. Their downward spiral continued in 2015 with a drop to Division Four but under Kelly the Leinster outfit put together back-to-back promotions.

McGrath says his players are determined to show their worth in a “very challenging” second tier.

“They’ve come from four, to three, to two and if you look at our fixtures, all of them are very challenging,” said the Rostrevor native, a former Ulster and Ireland International Rules manager.

“They’re all games that you’d have to be very close to your best to win, there can’t be any middle-of-the-road performances and if there are we’ll be punished. Over the next four weeks we have to make sure we get the work done to make sure our performance against Down is at the level it should be at and that it is consistent over the 70 minutes. “The players are looking forward to the challenge.

“Some of them may not realize what is needed in terms of the work that has to be done and in terms of the level they need to be training at to compete against Cork, Meath, Tipperary, Down… It’s a very competitive prospect that lies ahead and the players are beginning to realize that.

“The one thing you can’t do is continually be giving the ball away cheaply because if you do that you will pay a very heavy price. We paid it today against Longford and they are a Division Three team.”

On a personal level, a typically focused McGrath is relishing the task of moulding a group of young players into a competitive Division Two outfit.

“It’s a new challenge and a fresh challenge with a group of players who are young and are keen to learn,” he said.

“I think they know that the road ahead is going to be hard, it’s going to be demanding and tough but that is the nature of inter-county football. It’s a hard road and you have to be 100 per cent on board, fully committed, making all the sacrifices that are needed and learning and improving all the time. That’s the kind of environment that we’re trying to create here.”

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