LOUTH’S first ever All-Star recipient Paddy Keenan showed why he is so revered in the Wee County as he planted two late scores in Drogheda, which pushed Louth towards an important home win.
The first of Keenan’s scores came in the 65th minute when his curled effort took Louth level, 1-10 apiece, but his second was the one that mattered as it gave Louth the lead for only the second time in the match, one they desperately held onto, keeping aloft of the competition, joint top of Division Three.
On Sunday, Keenan’s reslendent, swash-buckling style that electrified crowds in last year’s Leinster Championship were not on display, but instead, he showed his other characteristics, ones which also helped him clinch the All-Star, attributes such as courage, belief and leadership. When his team needed him most, Keenan stepped up to the plate, digging them out of a hole and then pulling his side to safety.
And what an important win it was on a day when Louth did not look themselves for large parts of the game, with their handling mysteriously letting them down on several occasions. Gone was the crisp passing that delighted supporters in Haggardstown just over a week ago, but then again, this is the Allianz League, a place where fluidity and subliminal passing seldomly wins games.
Instead, grit, determination and a steely desire to see games out win games and promotion come the end of the campaign and that is what Louth showed on Drogheda.
Of course, they were not helped by a surface that was, on the day, simply terrible for an Inter-County match. Walking on the Gaelic Grounds turf afterwards, it became evident why so many balls were left on the surface and why both sides found it difficult to judge the flight of the ball when it bounced in front of them.
For John Evans and his Tipperary side though, it could have been a different story if they had of brought their shooting boots. After racking up nine wides in the first half of their opening day fixture against Limerick, one would have presumed that Tipperary would have been more clinical in attack this time round. However, that was not the case as the Premier County kicked themselves out the game, registering eight wides in the first half, followed by six after the interval.
In truth though, the visitors just ran out of steam after a laboured and rugged performance stifled the flair that was displayed by Louth in their first clash against Westmeath just over a week ago.
Roar in Drogheda
When Louth’s captain Keenan sent over the equalising point on 65 minutes, the roar in the Gaelic Grounds gave Louth the last spur that they needed to go on and win a game, that at times looked out of reach.
Such a roar has not been heard in the County Grounds for some time and perhaps, it finally put to bed the Championship defeat by Tipperary in 2009.
Yet even up until the last minute, it looked as though Tipperary were going to travel south with the points as an advancing Paddy Codd had a superb chance to win the game on 69 minutes. Breaking free from a clutter of players that were scrambling for possession, Codd was one on one with Louth goalkeeper Sean Connor. The full-back tried to blast the ball past the St Patrick’s man into the left hand side of the net, but somehow the Louth number one got his hand to it, pushing it wide for a 45 that ultimately came to nothing.
It was an act of brilliance by Connor who has responsded in terrific fashion since getting the nod as Louth’s number one by Fitzpatrick.
It was a pulsating finish to a game that took some time to warm up, despite Tipperary going ahead 0-2 after five minutes, courtesy of a Barry Grogan free and a fisted point by Brian Fox.
Shane Lennon pulled Louth back into the game with pointed frees before Fox, with another fisted effort, traded scores with Ray Finnegan, who chipped in with a superlative from 40 metres. Just as Louth were gathering momentum, Tipperary’s found the net, setting Fitzpatrick’s men back in their tracks.
Backs against the wall
Aaron Hoey uncharacteristically misplaced a pass, which was intercepted by Fox. His pass found Grogan in space and he made no mistake as the ball trickled past Connor and into the net, despite the valiant efforts of Gerard Hoey.
The goal should of brought Tipperary on, but it had the opposite effect as Louth registered the next two points. The scores though came from defenders as Louth’s forward lines struggled to get into the game. Declan Byrne and Gerard Hoey pulled two scores out of the bag, reducing the margin to two points, 1-4 to 0-5.
Conor Sweeney added a free, but Louth got the score they desperately needed as Shane Lennon continued his rich run of scoring form. Niall Curran dropped the ball 20 yards from goal. Keenan, spotting Lennon in the clear, flicked the ball towards the Kilkerley Emmets front man, who hammered the ball into the corner of the net past Paul Fitzgerald.
Lennon followed it up with a free before Sweeney responded to leave it 1-6 apiece at half time.
Fitzpatrick introduced Brian Donnelly at the break, placing him alongside Keenan in the midfield and Carroll went to the 40, adding some steel around the midfield where Louth were struggling to gain posssession.
The two sides continued to trades scores after the restart before Tipperary stretched into a 1-10 to 1-8 lead, thanks to scores from Grogan and Sweeney. Looking good for their lead, it seemed as though Tipperary were going to inflict a defeat on Fitzpatrick, a week before he runs for Fine Gael in the National Elections.
But Louth, showing their grit and determination, clawed their way back into the game.
Tipperary lost Dara Dwyer after just four minutes of his introduction, leaving Evans to reshuffle his pack once again. As he did, Fitzpatrick pulled a masterstroke, introducing veteran forward JP Rooney for the final 17 minutes.
It worked a treat as six minutes later, Rooney’s clever play resulted in him being fouled, giving Lennon the opportunity he needed to get Louth to within a point.
From here, Keenan took over, dragging Louth, first level and then ahead, before Mark Brennan sealed the win with a sidewinder from 30 yards on 67 minutes after Derek Crilly knocked the ball into his path.
In 2010, Louth’s inability to seal promotion to Division Two was down to their lack of focus in the final third of games. Not being able to grind out results when they were misfiring in several areas of the pitch cost them dearly in the end, but this year, it seems that may not be the case as their mettle was truly tested on Sunday, a test they just about passed.
Scorers – LOUTH: Shane Lennon (1-5, 5f), Mark Brennan, Paddy Keenan, (0-2) each, Ray Finnegan, Declan Byrne, Gerard Hoey, all (0-1).
TIPPERARY: Barry Grogan, (1-4, 3f), Conor Sweeney, (0-3, 2f), Brian Fox, (0-2), Johnny Cagney, (0-1).
LOUTH; Sean Connor; Eamonn McAuley, Aaron Hoey, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Dessie Finnegan, Declan Byrne; Paddy Keenan, Ronan Carroll; Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Andy McDonnell; Derek Maguire, Shane Lennon, Adrian Reid.
Subs: Ronan Greene for Eamonn McAuley (32mins), Brian Donnelly for A McDonnell (H/T), JP Rooney for Derek Maguire (53mins).
TIPPERARY: Paul Fitzgerald; Ciaran McDonald, Paddy Codd, Andrew Morrissey; Christopher Aylward, Lorcan Egan, Niall Curran; Brian Jones, George Hannigan; Brian Fox, Johnny Cagney, Peter Acheson; Conor Sweeney, Seamus Grogan, Barry Grogan.
Subs: Aldo Matassa for Johnny Cagney, (44mins), Dara Dwyer for Niall Curran, (44mins), Stephen Hahessy for Dara Dwyer, (53mins), Brian Mulvhill for Peter Acheson, (68mins).
Wides - Louth: 4 (1 first half), Tipperary: 14 (8 first half).
Bookings – Louth: Paddy Keenan, (52mins), JP Rooney, (58mins), Declan Byrne, (72mins). Tipperary: Niall Curran, (34mins), Andrew Morrissey, (58mins), Brian Mulvhill, (72mins).
Referee: Damien Brazil (Offaly).