LOUTH’S hopes of promotion came to a crashing end in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night as Peter Fitzpatrick’s side endured a night of misery.
However, it was not an all-action display by Cavan which condemned Louth to the loss. Rather, it was a shockingly bad performance by the Reds which played more than its part in the result. In what was perhaps the worst performance under Peter Fitzpatrick in his year and a half in the hotseat so far, his side looked jaded, out of sorts and shapeless at times.
Yes, the players tried at times. You could see it in their faces, but the disappointment was there too, etched on their faces as they knew they blew what was realistically their last chance of promotion to Division Two this year.
But the more they tried in Breffni, things only got worse. Passes went astray from the first minute and any time, Louth needed a killer ball, it was stopped in it tracks. Any time they needed a point to lift them, it fell short.
Poor, very poor
Simply put, it was bad. The champagne football of the Championship last year is now definitely a distant memory, hidden away in a treasure chest that is seemingly lost. After storming to three wins out of three in the league, the runaway train for promotion has been royally derailed by three teams who Louth were expected to beat, Offaly, Limerick and now Cavan.
It’s as if the formbook was thrown out the window on the bus back from the Wexford game, the last time Louth won as since then, they have not looked like the same side which fought tooth and nail to win their first three games.
On Saturday night, it was not only Louth who were bad as the referee matched them in the poor performance bracket. The referee, Gregory Walsh’s main contributions were left scattered amongst the shambles as every time he blew his whistle, it led to him throwing the equivalent of a mini hand grenade onto the scene.
Almost every decision the fussy and stickler for the rules Walsh made was met with criticism, from those on the pitch to those in the stands. Yes, he annoyed both sides, but perhaps in Louth’s case, it was themselves and more so Declan Byrne who fared worse when it came to Walsh’s decisions.
Booked in the first half for God knows what, Byrne was humiliated on 40 minutes when Walsh somehow gave him his marching orders as an over zealous umpire spotted something out of nothing. The same umpire got Colm Judge booked in the first half after a bit of wrestling with a full-back.
However, despite Walsh’s imperfections, he alone did not cause Louth to stutter to their third loss in a row. The Wee County men did that themselves.
Fitzpatrick made four changes from the programme as Shane Lennon, who injured his quadriceps made way, as did JP Rooney, Adrian Reid and Mark Brennan. Instead, Ronan Carroll, Paraic Smith, Colm Judge and Ray Finnegan got the nod.
But from the early going, it was not working, despite a three man midfield of Brian Donnelly, Paddy Keenan and Carroll.
Cavan, with three frees went into a 0-2 lead after nine minutes thanks to Niall McDermott and Cian Mackey, but to say it was an action packed first ten minutes would be unjustified. Another five lacklustre minutes followed as Louth struggled to find any rhythm. They did momentarily and it came through Paddy Keenan, who split the posts on 15 minutes after an Andy McDonnell layoff.
In a similar move, one which gave Louth supporters false hope just minutes later, Louth finally showed what they are capable of when Keenan finished a slick move to point again.
However, that was to be Louth’s move of the match as a physical Cavan came back to stretch their lead to 0-6 at the break, as Paraic Smith pointed Louth’s other score.
At half time, the discontent was felt in the air, but there was also a sense of optimism as Louth were only three points down, against a below average Cavan team. Surely a shift to third or fourth gear would blow them away?
Unfortunately, that shift didn’t come as Louth struggled to come out of first, never mind second gear. Eamonn McAuley was introduced at half time for Stephen Fitzpatrick and Mark Brennan replaced Derek Maguire, but Peter Fitzpatrick had more reshuffling to do as Byrne received his marching orders just five minutes after the restart, leaving Louth with a bigger mountain to climb.
With more space available to them, Cavan, inspired by Geroid McKiernan exploited the gap in Louth’s defence as he helped them to three more points, two of which he tagged himself to put Cavan in pole position, 0-9 to 0-3. Rooney, Reid and Jamie Carr were all introduced to try and salvage something but by the time Louth registered their next score, almost 40 minutes had elapsed since Smith helped himself to Louth’s third point of the game.
Going that long without a score is certainly not Division Two material, a division Louth looked certain of after that away win in Wexford.
But on 57 minutes, Louth, through Eamonn McAuley got their fourth score as the Na Piarsaigh man harried forward and took a great score from 30metres out.
A lifeline was then thrown to Louth minutes later as Ronan Carroll’s cut-throat ball found Adrian Reid in space. The Mattock man raced towards Cavan’s goal and fired a lethal sidewinder but James Reilly, the Cavan netminder was up to the task and parried it away with his left hand. It fell kindly to Mark Brennan who took a touch before drilling the ball with anger into the net.
From there, it should have been game on but Ronan Flanagan got the next point, giving Cavan breathing space.
They sighed a breath of relief on 67 minutes as Paraic Smith found himself one on one with Reilly, but under pressure, the Dreadnots man blasted the ball over the bar when he really needed to find the back of the net.
Substitute Sean Johnston put Cavan further into the lead when he angled in a nice score on 69 minutes as Louth left their comeback too late. Ray Finnegan’s late punt forward was fisted goalwards by Carroll, who was now deployed at full-forward, but he couldn’t get enough on it to steer it past Reilly.
Louth tried the same tactic seconds later, this time Keenan got a powerful punch on the ball but it stubbed the butt of the post and trickled wide, leaving Louth in despair.
Louth have one more game, away to Waterford next Sunday. Promotion looks off the cards unless a series of results go Louth’s way, but judging by this display, promotion is not something that is going to be talked about.
Something has gone wrong since the Wexford game and Peter Fitzpatrick has to put his finger on it before next Sunday, as Louth need something to boost them before they start the run-up to the Championship, which will creep around faster than many people expect. Simply put, Louth need to perform to try and erase the memories of the past three outings.
Scorers – CAVAN: Niall McDermott (0-4, 3f), Geroid McKiernan (0-3), Cian Mackey, Sean Johnston, Ronan Flanafan, Mark McKeever, all (0-1).
LOUTH: Mark Brennan (1-0), Paddy Keenan, Paraic Smith (0-2) each, Eamonn McAuley (0-1).
CAVAN: James Reilly; Oisin Moynagh, Thomas Corr, Dane O’Dowd; Mark McKeever, Padraig O’Reilly, Damien O’Reilly; Joe McCutcheon, Niall Murray; Geroid McKiernan, Ray Cullivan, Ronan Flanagan 0-1; Niall McDermott, Cian Mackey, Eugene Keating. Subs: Stephen Jordan for Eugene Keating (H/T), Gareth Smith for Stephen Jordan (54mins), Sean Johnston for Ray Cullivan (63mins), Michael Brennan for G McKiernan (63mins), Keith Fannin for Niall Murray (70mins)
LOUTH: Sean Connor; Declan Byrne, Aaron Hoey, Gerard Hoey; Ray Finnegan, Dessie Finnegan, Stephen Fitzpatrick; Ronan Carroll, Brian Donnelly; Derek Crilly, Paddy Keenan, Andy McDonnell; Derek Maguire, Colm Judge, Paraic Smith. Subs: Mark Brennan for Derek Maguire (H/T), Eamonn McAuley for Stephen Fitzpatrick (H/T), Adrian Reid for A McDonnell (42mins), Jamie Carr for Dessie Finnegan (48mins), JP Rooney for Colm Judge (53mins).
Wides – Cavan: 8 (3 first half), Louth: 9 (5 first half).
Bookings – Cavan: Damien O’Reilly (33mins), Oisin Moynagh (64mins), Ronan Flanagan (72mins). LOUTH: Declan Byrne (14 + 40mins), Colm Judge (11mins), Ray Finnegan (24mins), JP Rooney (64mins).
Red Cards: Louth - Declan Byrne (40mins). Referee: Gregory Walsh (Antrim)