Harte hoping his Louth side can rise to Croke Park occasion
Allianz Football League Division Three final: Louth v Limerick (today, Croke Park, 4.45pm, live on TG4)
LOUTH head to Croke Park this evening with expectation and favouritism as they seek to land a first piece of silverware under Mickey Harte.
The Reds are on a five-match winning streak that began with an away triumph in Limerick, who they face at Headquarters tomorrow aiming to end the county’s six-year wait on a National League title.
Harte has used 29 players across the seven-match programme to date with captain Sam Mulroy leading the charge, registering 3-51 in finishing the regulation campaign as the country’s top-scorer.
“The Croke Park experience will be great,” Harte said.
“The players have earned the right to be there and to play in an arena and on a surface like that.
“But I think it will suit Limerick too, a good, big, mobile team full of skill - I think they will revel in Croke Park as well.
“They'll be smarting that they let it slip away the last day and will see it as a chance to put it right.”
Indeed, the round three clash which the Tyrone man refers to was a turning point in the Wee County's season. Having picked up the minimum return from their opening games against Laois and Longford, Louth looked set to suffer a second loss in three outings at University of Limerick when trailing by five with 14 minutes to play.
However, a run of seven successive white flags condemned the Treaty to a first defeat and lit Louth’s promotion fire.
“It was a very competitive game and at one stage we looked in big danger of being overrun,” Harte recalled.
“When we were five down in the second half, we certainly couldn't have envisaged being in a League final. We were in a very sticky position that day but we battled it out and it was really worth more than a win.
“I feel it was a watershed moment in our campaign, probably one of a number in truth. Getting the draw in Longford and the second half against Laois, coming back to within five points, you could see that resilience starting to form in the team and we have sustained that as the league rolled on.”
Much has been made of Gavin Devlin’s influence over Louth’s blistering style of play, both goals in last Sunday’s promotion-clinching victory over Wicklow having been the result of rehearsed moves off the training ground.
Harte recently described his right-hand man, who followed the three-time All-Ireland SFC-winning manager into the Wee County, as “the best coach in Ireland, bar none” and Mulroy concurred, suggesting he “could spend all day on a training pitch” with the Ardboe native.
“Some of the players may need time to adapt to the level and they're working hard on their physique,” Harte added.
“Then it's about players learning to be competent on the ball. It's a really fast game now and players need to be interchangeable as there are no set positions. It's not a draughts board game.
“A lot of that is down to Gavin and his ability to develop set plays and systems of play.
“These things don't happen by accident and they may not always work. But it's about getting all the little details and skills of the game correct so that when they do come off, they prove that they're worth experimenting with.”
This evening will mark the Wee county’s fourth League showpiece appearance in just over a decade and the third at this grade, following the 2011 victory over Westmeath and the loss to Tipperary six years later.
Their last League victory came in the 2016 Division Four decider defeat of Antrim. Goalkeeper James Califf, roving wing-back Conall McKeever and key midfielder Tommy Durnin, now of Inniskeen Grattan’s, featured on that occasion.