Louth Hurlers travelled to Letterkenny to play Donegal in the penultimate NHL match knowing that a win was imperative as their nearest rivals Roscommon were awarded the points in their match by Fingal, who refused to fulfil the fixture.
However, the pressure did not affect Paddy Kelly’s side at all as they condemned Donegal to their fourth and heaviest defeat of their Division 3B League campaign as they went down by nineteen points to Louth by in O’Donnell Park on Sunday afternoon.
Donegal were short a number of first choice players through injury and non availability and a few more have not committed but overall on the evidence of the current campaign a big gulf has developed between the bottom and the top teams in Division 3B as Louth started in bright fashion.
Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Derek Horan and Brian Corcoran were causing panic in the Donegal defence every time they got the sliotar.
The first two scores went Louth’s way from Horan and O’Sullivan before Donegal opened their account. Horan in particular looked sharp and had 1-3 from play by half time, Louth’s other major score, an inspiring teamworked goal from Brian Corcoran.
Shane Fennell picked off an excellent point. Indecision in the defence allowed Donegal in for a goal before the short whistle leaving the score in Louth’s favour 2-5 to 1-6.
Unfortunately for Louth, Donal McArdle picked up a second yellow, which the referee seemed to give the Louth players rather easily for the most innocuous misdemeanour’s, so leaving Louth with a difficult task for the second half.
But it was a different story altogether in the second half as the floodgates opened and Louth took complete control as they hit 4-7 to just two paltry points in response from Donegal.
And without being brilliant Louth ran out easy winners and maintained their push for promotion as they went to second place in the table behind Mayo.
They upped the tempo in the second half, closing down the Donegal defence not allowing the ball to be cleared. This unsettled Donegal and supporters who were wondering who had the extra man.
Louth struck for a goal and a point within six minutes of the restart. Diarmaid O’Sullivan pointed on 38 minutes and Shane Callan found the net three minutes later. His long range free from 70 metre went all the way to the net.
As Louth applied the pressure, Callan added another dagger again when his strike from midfield ended up in the Donegal net; this time dropped by Paul O’Brien and a 4-8 to 1-6 lead for the visitors.
The Louth lads, sensing victory, pushed on by this stroke of luck, added more misery on Donegal with opportunist goals from Diarmuid O’Sullivan and a brilliant individual effort from substitute Darren O’Hanrahan.
David Dunne who gave his usual brave performance picked up an injury and his replacement Gerard Smyth gave the selectors something to think about by giving a sterling performance, his second point from play was worthy of a Croke Park setting.
The victory was marred by the red card shown to full-forward David Kettle, a straight red for a charge at Donegal full-back Colm Breathnach who will now miss vital matches in the next four weeks.
Donegal were so shell shocked by the tenacity and ferocity of Louth’s second half performance that all they could add to their half-time score was three points, two frees even after Louth were reduced to 13 men. The satisfying feature of this victory for the Louth selection team was that only three points of their 6-12 total came from frees.
Notable displays from Brian Hassett , Ronan Byrne and Diarmuid Murphy in defence, a trojan second half from Shane Callan at midfield, coupled with a formidable set of forwards paved the way for this victory.
Louth: James Connolly; Brian Hassett, Conor Kerrigan, Adrian Wallace; Domhnall McArdle, Ronan Byrne, Diarmuid Murphy (0-1f); Donagh O’Sullivan, Shane Callan (2-3,1f); Shane Fennell, David Dunne, Derek Horan (1-3); Brian Corcoran (1-0), David Kettle, Diarmuid O’Sullivan (1-2,1f).
Subs: Gerard Smyth (0-3) for D Dunne (49); Darren Hanrahan (1-0) for B Corcoran (63mins); Wesley Morrissey for D O’Sullivan and Gavin Kerrigan for D O’ Sullivan (both 69mins).
Donegal: Paul O’Brien; Michael Lillis, Colm Breathnach, Ardal McDermott; Shane O’Connor, Jamsie Donnelly, Paddy Hannigan; Ciaran Dowds, David White; Niall Campbell (0-5, 4f), Sean McVeigh (0-2) Ciaran Mathewson (0-1); Michael McGee, Lee Henderson (1-0), Peter Horan.
Sub: Paul Burns for P O’Brien (55mins).
Referee: Eamonn Hasson (Derry).