Slick Louth blow Down promotion hopes apart
Allianz Football League Division Three: Down 1-6 Louth 0-10
THE old saying goes that the clue to football is in the name. Never was it more so than in Páirc Esler yesterday as Down’s promotion hopes blew up.
Down seldom had the ball, and when they did, their ineffectiveness, reticence even, to use the boot was shown up by the stark contrast to how Louth played.
The first part of the problem was the bigger half of it. Down have had a struggle on their own kickouts going back a full generation now, and yesterday they took another hammering on restarts.
With a significant height at advantage at midfield in the shape of Tommy Durnin and James Califf, the visitors pushed right up. Rory Burns kicked long more often than not, and Louth won it more often than not.
13-4 they won the kickout battle in the first half, and that was the platform on which Wayne Kierans’ side built a fine first half display.
Playing into the gums of a gale, they stuck by their principles. They always had a presence in the half-forward line and always had at least one, mostly two, inside at all times.
When they turned the ball over, they kicked. The movement of Sam Mulroy, who gave Ruairi Wells a tough day, and Declan Byrne was hard to handle, and they were fed with a supply so well-rehearsed that it completely nullified Kevin McKernan as sweeper.
Down hit three points in the opening nine minutes and then didn’t score again until Darren O’Hagan’s rocket of a 52nd minute goal that sparked a late revival that fell just short of rescuing the whole situation.
Ryan Johnston, Conor Poland and Caolan Mooney – the latter firing over after a searing run right through Louth’s heart – suggested promise, but that was where it ended.
Their attacking play for the rest of the half was haphazard in the extreme. They went the route of thinking the wind would do the work for them and started to shoot blind from range, leaving Donal O’Hare standing shivering on the square’s edge as he watched ball after ball fly over his head.
There were two sides to the tactical argument. Down had a wind and set up with McKernan posted in his usual sweeping role until they brought on Paul Devlin and pushed up for the rest of the half on 29 minutes.
Down didn’t do enough to push up and contest Louth’s kickouts, meaning Fergal Skeery got a lot off short, but equally the Wee County carried a real threat on the counter. They had runners breaking the line in the middle third all day and it’s quite possible that had McKernan not played where he was, Louth would have been out the gate at half-time.
Their big chance fell to Declan Byrne three minutes before the break, just after Down had pushed up. Tommy Durnin saw Fergal Donohoe in the huge space left in front of goal, and the ball ended up with Byrne. His shot was turned away by a superb save from Burns.
The kickout issue runs far deeper than the goalkeeper, with the scarcity of options meaning he had no choice most of the time. When they created 4v3s in the full-back line in the second half, he worked it short.
But it was a sign of the crowd’s frustration when the first of those was met by an outbreak of ironic cheering. That was how severe their struggle was.
Louth deservedly led 0-4 to 0-3 at half-time, and they used the wind in the third quarter to stretch the gap right out to six points.
Their own attacking display wasn’t quite as cut-throat as it had been against the wind as they put a bigger focus on minding the house, but Mulroy was still a great option as an outlet for a kick.
He finished with 0-5 from frees. His work in open play was excellent, but Louth were let down a bit by his decision-making and willingness to shoot from just about anywhere. If they can get him using his head, they’ll have a serious baller.
Tommy Durnin – another whose shot selection was questionable, but whose workrate and effectiveness at midfield wasn’t - and James Califf both scored in between three Mulroy frees to make it 0-9 to 0-3 heading into the final 20 minutes.
From there, you can credit Down. As always, Darren O’Hagan was the man leading the charge. He kicked 1-1 in what became a desperate last stand.
His goal was one any forward would have been proud of. Donal O’Hare’s shot was brilliantly kept in by Connaire Harrison – although Louth argued the point on whether it actually was – and it fell to O’Hagan, who threw a dummy before slamming the ball into the stanchion in Fergal Sheeky’s goal.
Fergal Donohoe pointed at the end of a move from the resulting short kickout but with 15 minutes to play, that was to be Louth’s tenth and final score. They seldom crossed halfway for the remainder.
Down took the invitation and piled forward. Connaire Harrison, looking the sharpest he has all season, fired over a brilliant score on the loop.
It was fumbly and edgy, but when Paul Devlin and then O’Hagan landed points to cut the gap to one, it seemed as though Down were going to stick to form and find a way.
But for the final eight minutes of play, including stoppage time, they couldn’t. The last chance fell to Harrison but his effort tailed off in the wind.
They simply hadn’t played well enough to deserve it. Louth could now go up if they beat Westmeath, but for Down it’s another year of purgatory to come.
Down: R Burns; R Wells, R McAleenan; D Guinness, P Laverty, K McKernan, C Flanagan, D O’Hagan (1-1); J Flynn, C Mooney (0-1); R Johnston (0-1), C Poland (0-1), B O’Hagan; D O’Hare, J Johnston
Subs: P Devlin (0-1) for Flanagan (29), C Quinn for J Johnston (HT), S Fegan for Laverty (HT), B McArdle for Wells (45), C Harrison (0-1) for B O’Hagan (48)
Yellow cards: J Johnston (30), D O’Hagan (64)
Louth: F Sheeky; J Craven, E Carolan; A Williams, B Duffy, F Donohoe, J Clutterbuck; T Durnin (0-1), J Califf (0-2); C Brannigan, C Downey, J McEneaney; A McDonnell, S Mulroy (0-5f), D Byrne (0-1)
Subs: E Duffy for Brannigan (55), D Maguire for Clutterbuck (55), C Early for Califf (60), C McKeever for McDonnell (61), R Burns for McEneaney (69)
Yellow card: E Carolan (60)
Referee: J Hickey (Carlow)