AFTER months of preparing for this day, Peter Fitzpatrick could not believe how it all went wrong for his Louth side.
Giving credit to a spirited Carlow side, the Louth boss took nothing away from the Barrowsiders, admitting that they deserved their victory.
But what must have galled him deep down was the performance of his side. When Louth lifted the Division Three title at Croke Park at the end of a topsy-turvy campaign at the end of April, Fitzpatrick thought his side were going into the game in high spirits, ready for another assault on the competition.
On Sunday though, that all disappeared as his side bowed out on a day when things did not go right for the Wee County.
“To tell the truth, at the end of the day, it was a very, very disappointing result”, said Fitzpatrick.
“I thought at half time, three points down and I know we had only 14 men, but I still believed in the team.
“We made a couple of changes at half time, I think the injection done well. I think Andy McDonnell and Ronan Carroll made a fantastic impact.
“I thought when we went three points up, it was a matter of holding on. We were just unlucky, we had a few chances and we missed them.
“After that there, instead of going maybe four points up, we gave Carlow an opportunity to come back and in fairness they took a few lovely points.”
One point in particular caught the eye of Fitzpatrick, along with most in attendance as Brendan Murphy kicked a point from the sideline.
“I thought the point Murphy took from the sideline, when they were two points behind was an inspirational point.
“We made one bad kick out, it went to one of their lads and they got a point from that. It was continuous errors and even when they came back to a draw, we had a chance to get a winning point and just on the day, I don’t think Louth performed the way we have seen them perform in the last two years. It’s about the result at the end of the day and we were beaten.”
What was even more incredible on the day was that Louth were second best from the outset, showing none of the form that won them the league title or indeed that which got them to the final last year.
“From the minute the ball was thrown-in, we lost it and in fairness, they went three or four points up but the lads kept plugging away.
“I think when we lost Dessie Finnegan, it took Carlow a bit of time to re-organise and we came in only three behind at half time.
“The second half, we got back to a draw and then we went three points up but at that stage we had worked so hard.
“I think the loss of Andy McDonnell was big. Andy was an inspirational substitute coming on and we lost him in the last ten minutes and Derek Crilly as well.
“In fairness to Carlow, I have to take my hat off to them. They plugged away when most teams, who found themselves three points up and then three down would have given up but they never gave up and it was Carlow’s day. I’ll take nothing away from them, they played great football.”
Although he refused to condemn referee Derek Fahy for his handling of the game, the Longford whistler handed out 12 yellow cards, Fitzpatrick did think the sending off of St Patrick’s defender Dessie Finnegan was harsh.
“Dessie got two yellow cards, I thought they were two very harsh yellow cards. To me, it didn’t seem like a sending off. There was no dirty play.
“Dessie fell on the ground and tried to get his hand on the ball and clipped Gannon by the leg. There was no malice in it and I don’t think there were any dirty tackles today but there were a lot of yellow cards.
“But to me, I thought it was a good clean game. I thought Dessie was very unlucky to get sent off and we are not going to blame that for the defeat. We were three points up with ten minutes to go.
“We just couldn’t hold it and it was continuous errors. All we needed was a bit of composure and we just didn’t have it in the last ten minutes.”
Fitzpatrick thinks that Croke Park may be telling referees to be stricter this year as he witnessed Fahy’s card-happy approach first hand, but again, he failed to blame the referee for the shock defeat of his side.
“I don’t know what the directive is with referees at the moment. I don’t think there was a dirty tackle in that whole game but there were a lot of yellow cards.
“Maybe it’s a directive from Croke Park but we are blaming ourselves. We had opportunities in the final ten minutes. We had some goal opportunities and missed them instead of taking our points.
“We had lean times in Louth football and for Carlow, that’s their first win in the Championship since 2006. I think they have a fantastic chance against Wexford, if they believe in themselves.
“It’s on the day and it’s 70 minutes of football in Croke Park.”
Fitzpatrick now has the job of lifting his side for the first round of the qualifiers, a place nobody wanted to think of. To make the job easier, Louth have been paired with Meath, which will be played in Kingspan Breffni Park as the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda cannot hold the anticipated crowd.
Before Louth were pulled out of the hat with bitter rivals Meath, Fitzer said “It’s going to be very hard to lift them”, but one will imagine that will not be the case now as Louth look to gain revenge for last year’s Leinster Final.
“We will let the boys go back to their clubs on Tuesday night and then we will train again on Thursday.
“We got promotion to Division Two, we have a good team. We brought on four or five substitutes and have a good panel. I knew it was going to be a tough game. They had the motivation of coming up and beating the Leinster Finalists from last year and we found it hard to get the momentum going. The minute the ball was thrown in, we found it hard to get going.
“You could see the hunger there for Carlow. We had that hunger last year, but it wasn’t there today. They took their chances and fair play to Carlow.”