Sam Mulroy-inspired Louth put serious dent in Antrim's promotion tilt
Allianz National Football League Division Three: Louth 1-12 Antrim 1-8
THERE were no last-gasp winners for Antrim like in Haggardstown with Louth avenging last May’s defeat by chiselling out a fully deserving win in Ardee yesterday and taking firm control of their own destiny in Division Three.
When you’re studying the permutations longer than your opponents after a game, you know you’re up against it. And Antrim are up against it in terms of pulling off back-to-back NFL promotions under Enda McGinley.
The Saffrons will need to take care of business at home to Westmeath next Sunday and hope Fermanagh can upset Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds.
Yesterday, Antrim never found any rhythm in their play and could easily have lost by a bigger margin had Louth been more clinical in the final third.
The Ulstermen had moments in this top-of-the-table clash but not nearly enough of them.
Not even a Dermot McAleese goal in the 50th minute that reduced the home side’s lead to 0-10 to 1-5 could inspire Antrim to push on for victory, with Louth out-scoring them 1-2 to 0-3 in the final 10 minutes, plus stoppage-time, to secure their fourth win in the division and keep them in pole position.
Louth’s defensive cordon and speedy counter-attack had a demoralising impact on their visitors – not to mention another game-winning display from the imperturbable Sam Mulroy who bagged 1-9, with his 64th minute fisted goal putting Antrim out of their misery.
The Naomh Mairtin’s clubman has claimed a staggering 58 per cent of Louth’s scores in this League campaign.
'Don’t concede frees' was Antrim’s pre-match mantra, but it’s easier said than done when Mickey Harte has so many willing runners in his Louth ranks that commit opposing defenders.
Conal McKeever, Ciaran Downey and Craig Lennon ran fearlessly at the heart of the Antrim back-line with McKeever winning a couple of crucial frees in the second half that were despatched by the nerveless Mulroy.
In the opening exchanges, there wasn’t enough head-up football from the Antrim attack, nor diagonal runs off the shoulder to test just how durable and smart the Louth defence was.
As early as the 27th minute, McGinley tried to shift the emphasis of his side’s attack by sacrificing Odhran Eastwood for the towering Cargin man Pat Shivers – but the move never had the desired effect.
Antrim had to rely on accuracy from distance to move the scoreboard.
Ryan and Conor Murray obliged by landing two points apiece from play but Louth’s doggedness and appetite to get a hand in or make contact were glowing features of their display that wasn’t without its flaws.
There were occasions in the second half where the usually stoic Harte spun on his heels on the sideline at some wretched finishing from his side that kept Antrim on life-support.
Ciaran Byrne, an excellent impact sub this season, twice fluffed his lines but later compensated for those misses by claiming an assist for Mulroy’s three-pointer.
The high points for the visitors were Marc Jordan’s seemingly endless run and assist for Tomas McCann’s fine left-footed score just after the break and McAleese climbing above Niall Sharkey to punch home Tomas McCann’s high centre.
Ryan Murray grabbed the first point of the afternoon with a smashing effort from the left flank before Mulroy started to move and make a dent on the scoreboard.
He hit four first-half points – including three placed balls – but his only score from play in the opening half, where he held off Ricky Johnston on his left side before finding his range with his right illustrated his marquee class.
Still only 24, Mulroy is one of those joyful sights in Gaelic football whose finishing will always attract headlines – but there were other things to admire about this Louth performance.
To a man, they never stopped running and asking questions of Antrim. Tommy Durnin was the pick of the midfielders yesterday, corner-back Donal McKenny defended well and always offered himself as an attacking outlet, full-forward Diare McConnon presented a few puzzles too and James Califf's conversion to goalkeeper is working a treat.
The Antrim footballers left Ardee with plenty of regrets and their promotion prospects hanging by a hopeful thread.
As for Harte and Devlin, they are definitely getting a tune out of Louth.
Louth: J Califf; D Corcoran, B Duffy, D McKenny; L Grey, N Sharkey, L Jackson; T Durnin (0-1), J Clutterbuck; C McKeever, S Mulroy (1-9, 0-7 frees, 0-1 ’45), C Downey; C Lennon, D McConnon (0-2, 0-1 mark), R Burns Subs: D Nally for R Burns (15), C Byrne for D McConnon (54), G Malone for L Grey (56), S Healy for J Clutterbuck (72), J Murphy for T Durnin (72)
Yellow cards: T Durnin (31), C McKeever (59)
Antrim: O Kerr; E McCabe, R Johnston, P Healy; M Jordan, J Laverty, D McAleese (1-0); M McCann, M Johnston; R Murray (0-3, 0-1 free), R McCann (0-1 free), C Murray (0-2); P McAleer, T McCann (0-2, 0-1 ’45), O Eastwood Subs: P Shivers for O Eastwood (27), K Small for M Johnston (42), P McCormick for P McAleer (51), E Hynds for R Murray (66), B McCormick for D McAleese (66)
Yellow cards: P McAleer (9), P Shivers (56), B McCormick (67), M McCann (68)
Referee: P Maguire (Longford)