POLITICS was put to the back burner on Sunday afternoon as Peter Fitzpatrick’s men got on with the job in hand in Wexford Park.
Continuing their 100% league record, Louth showed true grit, fighting spirit and determination to see off Wexford in a surreal game of football in Wexford, after what was a crazy weekend for politics in the county.
As the news filtered through that Fitzpatrick had captured a seat in the Dáil, all attention turned to more important matters for Wee County fans, the football.
However, as crazy as politics sometimes is, this game of football matched it, creating it’s own web of intrigue as there was a penalty, a crossbar that was rattled three times in one half, a lengthy stoppage and two ludicrous umpire decisions that were reversed by linesman.
Yes, it was a game that relatively had it all, but stranger still was the difference in quality between the Louth side that downed Wexford and the side that had struggled to get past Tipperary last week.
Night and day
Perhaps it was the surface in Drogheda as the turf in Wexford Park was immaculate. Perhaps it was the conditions in Wexford, as the weather resembled those sun-blessed days of the 2010 Championship. Whatever it was, the difference between Sunday’s performance and the one against Tipperary was like night and day.
The team’s handling, passing and penetration was frighteningly good for large parts of the first half, no more so than when 20 plus passes were racked up before Anthony Masterson clotheslined Mark Brennan, which resulted in a Louth penalty. Had Brennan not of been tangled, it would have resulted in an exceptional goal, coming from a patient, yet energetic build up.
From the get go, Louth were like rabid dogs, hungry to rip apart the home side’s defence. With 90 seconds on the clock, Andy McDonnell tested the resolve of the crossbar as he cannoned the ball off the top of the frame after Shane Lennon found him roaming in space. Instead, Lennon found Louth’s opening score with a free on four minutes with a sublime effort from near the touchline.
Lennon’s effort was matched at the opposite end from Seamus McLoughlin, from play, before Louth were dealt an early blow.
Ronan Carroll hobbled off after just five minutes, but initial fears about whether it was a re-occurrence of his back injury that plagued him last year were soon quelled when it was revealed that a dead leg was the cause of concern this time round. He was replaced by Brian Donnelly, who fitted in well alongside Keenan, bursting through packed crowds to create space for the Louth captain to carve open Wexford’s defence.
Derek Crilly, who had a terrific game, often dropping back to help out Louth’s defence, found birthday boy Derek Maguire with a long range free for Louth’s second point. Maguire, celebrating his 22nd birthday, curled the ball inside the posts to put Louth ahead.
If the crossbar had just settled from McDonnell’s earlier venomous effort, it was about to be rattled again as this time, Donnelly dipped a shot onto the woodwork.
Lennon was next to try and force the ball into the net as he collected the ball from McDonnell, but Masterson did enough to parry get a hand to his shot. Vying for the rebound, Lennon was held back by Graeme Molloy, who did enough to prevent the Kilkerley man as he poked the rebound into the side netting.
Seconds later, Lennon had the goal at his mercy, but opted to take the point, blasting over from close range, but in a moment of pure comedy and frustration, the umpire signalled a wide, sending Lennon and other Louth players into convulsions of disbelief. Thankfully, after some protesting, the linesman spotted the point and the decision from the umpires was rebuked. The point stood.
Brennan, with a drop shot made 0-4 to 0-1, but on 15 minutes of superb football from Louth, the Model County started to find their feet as Ben Brosnan started to pull the strings.
He pumped over a free before Ciaran Lyng squeezed over a point through a crowd of players, but it was Brosnan, who was instrumental in everything Wexford did. Blessed with lightning pace and a superb strike of the ball at his disposal, the Bannow-Ballymitty man caused problems to Declan Byrne, Eamonn McAuley and Stephen Fitzpatrick throughout the day. He tied the game at 0-4 apiece with a free before Louth surged ahead, courtesy of a penalty after Masterson forcefully charged at Brennan.
Fitzpatrick’s side needed someone to shoulder the responsibility of the penalty and they don’t come bigger than Keenan’s who stepped up to take the spot-kick, a rare sight indeed.
However, Keenan took it like a pro as he swept the ball into the bottom corner with ease. Not bad for a man who is a stranger to spot kicks.
The build-up to the penalty was a sight to behold as Louth moved the ball with such ease from man to man, but at the back, Brosnan was causing more damage as he shook off Declan Byrne. He squared to McLoughlin, but a brave block from Dessie Finnegan prevented the goal.
Unfortunately, for Byrne, it was to be his last involvement as his last ditch challenge at the rapid Brosnan merited a tick, which added to his yellow card on 23 minutes gave Fitzpatrick no alternative but to substitute him, a blow for the player who was giving a solid account of himself prior to that. Brosnan added a ‘45’ to cut Louth’s lead down to two points, 1-4 to 0-5 at the break.
The second half saw a fired up Wexford take the game to Louth, as within five minutes of the restart, they had taken the lead, through Ciaran Lyng and another point from Brosnan, who shot past McAuley to score.
Looking like they were losing their stranglehold on the game, Louth showed their new found character, their doggedness to stay in tight games and never relinquish the game until it is over.
When they were down, it was Keenan, once again who put them back level with a free. At this point, Fitzpatrick brought the experienced JP Rooney on, to make a difference as he had done a week earlier against Tipperary.
Seconds later, Keenan had them ahead again, much like he had done against the Premier County.
A penalty, a free with his left foot and now a point with the right foot, once again exemplified the talent of the Louth skipper, but he was not done yet.
Brosnan added another score from a quick free to tie the game again on 52 minutes, as the crowd roared the home side on.
It looked as though Louth needed something special to knock the stuffing out of Wexford and when Ray Finnegan ran the guts of 50 yards, it looked as though one of his specials, from a long way out would have been the answer. For once, it was not as the Pat’s man sent the ball wide.
The next score was crucial and Wexford thought they had it, but Brosnan drilled his effort of the post on the left hand side.
It wickedly bounced in front of the Louth goal, but a long clearance was lapped up by Derek Maguire, who was deprived of decent service for extended periods throughout the match. Twisting and turning, Maguire dispatched the ball over the net.
Just as Louth were building momentum, a clash of heads between Graeme Molloy and Brian Malone caused a lengthy stoppage to the game. When it did restart, the Wee County’s momentum returned as captain marvel, Keenan, chipped in with another exquisite score. He could have ended the game as a contest seconds later when he found himself darting towards goal with Masterson to beat.
Opening up his body, Keenan aimed for the top corner, but his strike sailed wide of the posts.
It didn’t matter as Lennon and Maguire put two more points on the board, before Rooney put the icing on the cake with a splendid point from an acute angle.
Offaly and then Limerick lie in wait, but it seems that inability to finish off teams and put games to bed has finally been discarded, something Louth fans will be thankful for.
Scorers – LOUTH: Paddy Keenan, (1-3, 1P, 1f,), Shane Lennon, (0-4, 3f), Derek Maguire, (0-3), Mark Brennan, JP Rooney, (0-1) each.
WEXFORD: Ben Brosnan, (0-7, 4f, 1 ‘45’), Ciaran Lyng, (0-3, 1f), Seamus McLoughlin, (0-1).
LOUTH: Sean Connor; Declan Byrne, Aaron Hoey, Gerard Hoey; Stephen Fitzpatrick, Dessie Finnegan, Ray Finnegan; Paddy Keenan, Ronan Carroll; Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Andy McDonnell; Adrian Reid, Shane Lennon, Derek Maguire.
Subs: Brian Donnelly for R Carroll, (5mins), Eamonn McAuley for Declan Byrne, (30mins), JP Rooney for A Reid, (46mins).
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson; Robert Tierney, Graeme Molloy, Conor Carthy; Brian Malone, David Murphy, Aindreas Doyle; Rory Quinlivan, Daithí Waters; Sean O’Neill, Redmond Barry, Colm Morris; Ciaran Lyng, Seamus McLoughlin, Ben Brosnan.
Subs: Niall Murphy for R Tierney, (51mins), Kevin O’Grady for S McLoughlin, (53mins), Brendan Doyle for R Quinlivan, (55mins), Paddy Byrne for D Murphy, (60mins), Richard Hughes for G Molloy, (68mins – Bloodsub), Liam Óg McGovern for B Malone, (68mins – Bloodsub).
Wides: Louth 10 (6 first half), Wexford: 8 (4 first half).
Bookings: LOUTH: Declan Byrne, (24mins), Paddy Keenan, (35mins), Derek Crilly, (50mins), Eamonn McAuley, (67mins).
WEXFORD: Anthony Masterson, (26mins), Redmond Barry (32mins), Aindreas Doyle, (45mins).
RefEREE: Damien Brazil (Offaly).