AFTER weeks of hype, Louth delivered the win that they desperately needed to kick off their Allianz League campaign.
Following the disappointment of last week’s postponement, the game was moved to Saturday night and facing a horrendous wind in the first half, Louth could have easily slipped on a proverbial banana skin at McGeough Park.
A loss would not have been the end of the world, but it would have been a disaster, something which Fitzpatrick and his selectors have drilled into the players for months now.
Thankfully, the players, led by Shane Lennon, responded in a positive fashion as 16 minutes into the game, Louth were dominating, picking apart a team that had not recorded a victory in the league since 2008.
Leading 2-3 to 0-1, Fitzpatrick’s men had built up a commanding lead, one which was cut to a point at half time, but it could have been a lot worse, especially when you consider that Louth were the ones facing the treacherous wind in the first period.
Fitzpatrick made one chance from the team he announced for last Sunday as Declan Byrne filled in for Eamonn McAuley at corner back, but Byrne could do little about the opening point as Dessie Dolan coaxed his way in to score from distance.
For Louth’s supporters, who braved harsh elements, they were in for a treat as it was Westmeath’s last score for 15 minutes and in that time, Louth hit the Midlanders with such a barrage, it left them reeling.
After two initial wayward efforts, Shane Lennon found his range and when he did, he was devastating, accumulating a personal tally of 1-7 on the day.
The Kilkerley Emmets star punted over the bar from a Carroll pass just moments after the duo combined for Louth’s first chance, on this occassion Carroll took one step too many and was squeezed out of a chance on goal.
In their next move, Lennon made sure of the point and seconds later he was in the thick of things again, collecting a pinpoint ball from Byrne. Spotting the darting run of Reid, Lennon fed the ball into the Mattock man and he went for goal, blasting at Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn, who did just enough to push it away from the roof of the net and over the bar.
With momentum in their favour Lennon found joy with a free as he easily pointed on nine minutes. Clearly enjoying himself and in form, Lennon capped off a whirlwind ten minute spell with a thumping strike for Louth’s first goal.
A long ball by Dessie Finnegan managed to find Lennon after it hurled over Derek Maguire and Kevin Maguire. Lennon took it on the spin, smashing it into the top left hand corner of the net.
Before Westmeath could recover, Louth put their tails further in a spin as their forward line mesmerized and bamboozled the Midlanders’ back line with their movement.
This time, it was a familiar face as Maguire continued his rich vein of scoring form. Collecting a Mark Brennan pass, Maguire, with his back to goal spun and made his trademark dash between the sticks, before finishing high into the roof of the net.
At this point in time, Louth took their feet off the gas as Westmeath finally started to utilise their wind advantage, shooting from distance and finding some joy. The turnaround is something that may concern Fitzpatrick and co as Louth have allowed Wicklow, UCD and Kildare to come back at them. Now Westmeath can be added to this list as Louth, through Lennon only got one more score in 20 minutes.
In that time though, the Midlanders added eight points, the first two coming from John Heslin and Conor Lynam, both with long range efforts.
Paul Greville added a free before Lynam got in behind Louth’s defence to fist over the bar on 20 minutes.
Despite the pressure forced upon Louth’s backline, they did not fall asunder, as both Hoeys and Declan Byrne fought for every ball, which was made more difficult by the downfall that was coming down on top of them.
Sean Connor then showed why he was chosen as Louth’s number one as Denis Glennon broke free. With the goal at his mercy, he sent the ball crashing towards goal, but Connor excellently used his reflexes to push it wide.
Westmeath continued to chip away at Louth’s lead as Denis Glennon and Dessie Dolan got them to within a point at half time.
Being a point ahead would of been something Fitzpatrick would have taken before throw-in as his side kicked against the powerful gale, but after taking such a commanding lead, he would have surely been unhappy to see it down to the minimum at the interval.
Louth lost Ronan Carroll at half time as Brian Donnelly replaced him in the engine room and all fears of letting this slip away were vanished within seven minutes of the restart.
Donnelly’s first touch resulted in him vaulting the ball over the bar from distance 30 seconds after the restart.
Using the wind excellently, Louth over the next quarter of an hour used the game as a shooting exercise as Ray Finnegan chimed in with his almost customary long range superlative. Seconds later, Andy McDonnell showed his talent when he raced away from his marker to send over a score.
Lennon had a chance at another goal on 42 minutes after Aaron Hoey broke up a Westmeath attack with brute strength. Ray Finnegan collected a loose ball and found Lennon in space in front of goal. With the ‘keeper to beat, Lennon took his point, which may have been a response to the Kildare game when Louth kept going for goal rather than take their points.
Glennon and Lennon exchanged points on 52 minutes before Louth pushed on to kill the game. An on fire Lennon sent a astonishing point over from the guts of 50 metres which seemed to put the game beyond Westmeath as Louth led by 2-10 to 0-10 with ten minutes remaining.
When Keenan and Adrian Reid hammered over two superb scores from distance, it was over, but not before the man of the moment Lennon could add his and Louth’s last score of the day on 68 minutes.
Tipperary are next for Louth, another home game where Fitzpatrick and co will hope to continue their great start to the league.
However to do so, Louth’s workrate cannot decrease as it was that, combined with the brilliance of Lennon that sealed this win.
Now, they just need to keep it up for the long season that lies ahead over the coming months.
Scorers – LOUTH: Shane Lennon, (1-7, 2f), Derek Maguire, (1-0), Adrian Reid, (0-2), Paddy Keenan, Andy McDonnell, Brian Donnelly, (0-1) each.
WESTMEATH: Denis Glennon, (0-3f), Conor Lynam, Des Dolan, both (0-2), John Heslin, Paul Greville, (0-1), Frank Wilson, (0-1).
Louth: Sean Connor; Declan Byrne, Aaron Hoey, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Dessie Finnegan, Stephen Fitzpatrick; Paddy Keenan, Ronan Carroll; Derek Crilly, Mark Brennan, Andy McDonnell; D Maguire, S Lennon, A Reid.
Sub: Brian Donnelly for R Carroll, (H/T), Paraic Smith for D Maguire, (60mins), JP Rooney for M Brennan, (60mins), Ronan Greene for A Reid, (70mins).
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; John Gaffey, Robert English, Kevin Maguire; Francis Boyle, Kieran Gavin, Conor Jordan; John Heslin, Brendan Murtagh; Conor Lynam, Denis Glennon, Ger Egan; Paul Greville, David Glennon (0-1), Des Dolan.
Subs: Kieran Martin for K Gavin, (25mins), Doran Harte for C Jordan, (39mins), Denis Corroon for B Murtagh, (49mins), Frank Wilson (0-1) for Denis Glennon, (58mins), Paul Bannon for P Greville, (65mins).
Wides: Louth 5 (3 first half), Westmeath (5, 3 first half). Bookings: Paul Greville, (38mins), Robert English, (55mins), Conor Lynam, (61mins).
RefEREE: P McEneaney (Monaghan).