Pete McGrath's Louth edged out by Longford
O'Byrne Cup: Longford 2-13 Louth 1-10
Close, but no cigar, for Pete McGrath in his bid to get his campaign as Louth manager off to a winning start.
Taking charge of his first competitive match in his new surroundings, the twice-winning All-Ireland boss with his native Down gave a first senior outing to four of his panel, while some of the more established players had new assignments.
This O'Byrne Cup match, played at an icy-cold Darver on Saturday, was hugely competitive, and with seven minutes remaining it looked destined to give McGrath an early boost.
William Woods' point made it 1-10 apiece, getting wind-assisted Louth on terms after they'd been led by six points at one stage by a slicker, better organised Longford side.
“When we came back to draw the match, we certainly were on top and we had the momentum to go on and maybe win the match. But the goal they scored – they went right through the middle of our defence – and then a quick point left us with an uphill battle”, said the new boss.
Louth backs appeared to have all routes to goals closed when Longford mounted an attack, but somehow Andrew Farrell found an opening and unleashing a ground shot planted the ball way out of rookie goalkeeper, Luke Haggins' reach.
Three further points left Longford six points clear, well on their way to a spot in the knock-out stages. Louth play Kildare in Newbridge this Wednesday evening, holding only an outside chance of advancing.
McGrath was happy with the way his team came back into the game, but not with the number of times they lost the ball while attacking inside the Longford 30 or 40 metre line. “We also dropped a lot short and were turned over, and Longford got six points from this situation in the first half. That was disappointing.
“It would have been nice to win, but for me personally, it's about seeing the progress, seeing what they can do, getting a handle on what the capabilities are, and trying to edge towards what we think will be our strongest team for the start of the league in four weeks' time.”
In that league opener, Louth have a home game against Down.
Longford led from the start, going 1-2 up before Louth got their opening score, a goal coming from the team's liveliest forward, William Woods. The visitors, however, were back five in front at the interval, 1-9 to 1-4.
The introduction of James Butler helped bring about about a Louth improvement, six points on the trot levelling off the match. But much of the momentum was lost when promising full-forward, Sam Mulroy, sustained a serious ankle injury and had to be removed to hospital.
Louth: W Woods 1-3, S Mulroy 0-2 (2 frees), J Butler 0-1, J McEneaney, T Durnin 0-1 each. Longford: S McCormack 0-6 (4 frees), P Gill 1-1, W Farrell 1-0, R McEntire 0-2, M Quinn, C Berry, P Collum, D Reynolds 0-1 each.
Louth: L Haggins; J Bingham, P Reilly, A Khan; D Maguire, B Duffy, F Donohue; A McDonnell, T Durnin; C McKeever, J McEneaney, C Downey; W Woods, S Mulroy, R Nally. Subs: J Butler for Downey; N Conlon for Nally; R Holdcroft for Mulroy; E Keenan for Maguire.
Longford: P Collum; P Fox, P McCormack, B Gilleran; M Quinn, B McKeon, P Foy; D Gallagher, R McEntire; C Berry, A Farrell, D Reynolds; P Gill, S McCormack, D Carrigy. Subs: P Hanley for Gallagher (black card); C Reilly for Gill.
Referee: Patrick Coyle (Meath)