IT may not have been pretty, but they done it. The Louth rollercoaster ride provided supporters with one more thrilling twist before fans disembarked.
In Dungarvan, the scenes of another promotion winning campaign in 2006 when the Reds climbed to the upper echelons of league football, the calculators were brought out on Sunday at the end of the game as amazingly, other results went Louth’s way.
Limerick dismantled Wexford, who went into the last day of the season as table toppers and in Mullingar, Westmeath beat Offaly, a result that actually worked out in Louth’s favour, despite many clamouring for an Offaly win.
In the end, the performance of the Wee County, which was poor again for three quarters of the game, didn’t matter as the ultimate goal was achieved, promotion to Division Two.
It did not look likely before the game and even 40 minutes into this contest, it seemed like a giant leap too far for Peter Fitzpatrick’s side.
But somehow they did it and the sending off of Waterford skipper Tony Grey on 57 minutes certainly played a contributing factor in Louth winning this tie.
At that time, Waterford were leading by 0-11 to 1-4, a scoreline they thoroughly deserved at the time.
But as the game opened up, so did the floodgates for Louth as they carved Waterford apart for the remainder of the tie as Paddy Keenan almost single-handedly dragged his team up to Division Two.
The Louth skipper, the heartbeat of the side, sent over three points in a row to bring his side to within a point of the Deise.
With their tails up at this point, Louth seized the moment. Keenan’s midfield partner Ronan Carroll levelled the game with a superlative on 65 minutes leaving the tie hanging in the balance.
Waterford had chances to regain the initiative but the policy of overplaying the ball when in possession and a reluctance to shoot for points when in good positions that cost them dearly throughout the game saw scoring opportunities wasted and possession turned over in front of the Louth posts time and again.
But the extra man for Louth was crucial and on 66 minutes they got the opening they needed, a free from 22 metres. Having seen Darren Clarke retire to the bench, someone needed to step up as this free would have given Louth the lead for the first time in the game.
Maguire steps up
Enter Derek Maguire, who entered the field on 45 minutes as a substitute. Picking his spot, the Young Irelands man placed the ball over the bar, his first free for the senior side, giving Louth a chance at promotion.
From there, Louth never looked back as Ray Finnegan settled the nerves with a terrific score, before Carroll added the icing to the cake.
At the end of the game, all attentions turned elsewhere as the atmosphere was a little subdued due to the complex nature of it all.
out of nowhere
But looking back, it was a bolt out of the blue, especially when you consider the way Louth started. Having made seven changes to the team who were appalling in Cavan a week ago, many expected Louth to smash through Waterford from the get go.
It did not pan out like that at all, as for 57 minutes, the Wee County again were disappointing, lethargic and tired looking.
It was the home side who started confidently retaining possession with short passing moves to set up Wayne Hennessy for the opening point inside 45 seconds before the returning Darren Clarke tagged over Louth’s opening score on four minutes from a free.
Waterford’s reply was a score from Mark Ferncombe and Hennessy weighed in with his second point on 11 minutes.
Louth were showing nothing at this stage as they were being outplayed in every department with the O’Gorman twins and Kieran Connery snuffing up any threat at the back and setting up good attacks that petered out with the last pass going astray. Patrick Hurney put Waterford three points clear in the 15th minute and Hurney should have goaled in the 20th minute after Ferncombe set him up in front of the posts but he amazingly drove the ball wide when it looked harder to miss.
Two minutes later he atoned when he finished a great run out of defence by Connery for a 0-5 to 0-1 lead.
Louth were in big trouble as they moved Brian Donnelly outfield in an effort to win possession and they got the break they needed in the 25th minute when they turned over possession with Connery’s misplaced pass in front of his goal and the ball was played out to JP Rooney in the left corner.
His high cross was fisted to the net by the incoming Ronan Carroll and Louth were back in the game completely against the run of play.
The visitors began to play with more confidence but they began to miss chances with Eamonn McAuley and Clarke shooting wide from good positions.
But it was the same for the home side as they too wasted opportunities as a period of ten minutes passed without a score, that is until Keenan pointed from a free to leave it all square at the interval, 1-2 to 0-5.
Louth started the second half with Carroll at full forward as Donnelly dropped to the centre of midfield but Waterford again took control as the did in the first half with Tommy Prendergast putting Sean Fleming through on goal only for the corner forward to blaze the ball the ball wide.
In the 37th minute Fleming set up Hurney for a point. Further points from Grey and Fleming followed as Louth slipped back into first gear, allowing an average team to attack them at will for the second time in just over a week.
It was at this point that Fitzpatrick began to ring the changes. Andy McDonnell, Maguire and Colm Judge were all introduced for Derek Crilly, Rooney and Clarke.
Just as they tried to settle into the action, Brian Wall put Waterford further ahead before Liam Shevlin spurned a glorious chance for Louth as he ventured forward, but he rattled the side netting.
Louth then lifted their game with a point from substitute McDonnell in the 51st minute.
hauling them into it
Seconds later Keenan won the ball in his own half and raced in to score a fine point. Waterford hit back immediately however with points from Prendergast and Patrick Hurney for a 0-11 to 1–4 lead but then Louth were given a lifeline as Grey saw red.
Just how tight this division was can be seen from the fact that had Louth lost they would probably have been relegated on the head to head with Waterford.
But what is really amazing is that victory has given them promotion and a place in the Divisional final against Westmeath in Croke Park in two weeks, something that did not seem likely before the game and even at time, during this game.
It’s the boost Louth needed before they enter the Championship, but it cannot paper over some of the cracks over the past number of weeks. Hopefully the adrenaline boost of a final spot will inject some much needed confidence back into the players who, for the past four games have looked devoid of the swagger they so freely exuded in their opening three games in the campaign.
A trip to Croke Park seems on the cards, the scene of many memories, both good and bad from 2010.
For Louth it really is their first chance to finally put the Leinster Final and move on, into the Championship as Division Three champions.
Scorers - Louth: Ronan Carroll (1-2), Paddy Keenan (0-5, 1f), Darren Clarke(0-1f), Andy McDonnell, Derek Maguire and Ray Finnegan (0-1) each.
Waterford: Patrick Hurney (0-4), Wayne Hennessy (0-2), Mark Ferncombe, Tony Grey, Sean Fleming, Tommy Prendergast and Brian Wall (0-1) each.
Louth: Neil Gallagher; Eamonn McAuley, Aaron Hoey, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Dessie Finnegan, Eamonn McAuley; Paddy Keenan, Ronan Carroll; Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Adrian Reid; Darren Clarke, Brian Donnelly, JP Rooney.
Subs: Andy McDonnell for D Crilly (45mins) and Derek Maguire for Rooney (45mins), Colm Judge for D Clarke (50 mins), Paraic Smith for Brennan (65mins).
Waterford: Kieran Cotter; Maurice O’Gorman, Thomas O’Gorman, Kieran Connery; Tony Grey, Shane Briggs, John Hurney; Eamonn Walsh, Brian Phelan; Brian Wall, Patrick Hurney, Wayne Hennessy, Sean Fleming, Tommy Prendergast, Mark Ferncombe. Subs: Cillian O’Keeffe for Ferncombe (56mins), Michael O’Gorman for J Hurney (56mins), Tommy Connors for Fleming (65mins). Referee: M Collins (Cork).