LOUTH booked their place in the Nicky Rackard Cup final as they fended off a spirited challenge from neighbours Monaghan.
As a result, Louth must face the all-powerful London once again, an unenviable task considering the 6-20 to 1-10 defeat they suffered at the hands of the exiles in round two of this competition.
But it’s a final appearance, a trip to Croke Park for the efforts of the hurlers and on cup final day, form goes out the window, giving Louth a 50/50 chance.
Despite beating the Farney side by more than 20 points in their Division 3B campaign, it was a different story this time for the Wee County as they were made to work up until the final whistle for the win.
Naomh Moninne’s Diarmuid Murphy produced a match winning performance from start to finish and aided by goals from Shane Callan and a fortuitous long range score from Donagh O’Sullivan late on, the men from the Wee County eked out the win.
Louth had to overcome their own woes even before the game as goalkeeper James Connolly had to be replaced by fellow Naomh Moninne man Eddie McArdle after picking up an injury in the warm-up.
The visitors took some time to get into the game and were playing catch up for most of the first half but they began to make their presence felt approaching half time and four unanswered points in the final minutes brought them right back into contention.
Monaghan got down to business right from the start with points from Michael McHugh, free, and Sean Leonard to put Monaghan two in front in the fourth minute. Louth then opened their account with a point by Diarmuid Murphy in the sixth minute, Gerard Smyth the provider.
Monaghan were dominating the exchanges at this stage and two points within a minute from a Michael McHugh free and a good effort from play by Eanna MacSuibhne had Monaghan three up after eight minutes with Trevor Hilliard and Brian McGuigan then adding another brace within a minute to leave Monaghan five in front after 11 minutes.
Diarmuid Murphy converted a free in the 12th minute but that was cancelled out almost immediately by Stephen Lambe. A point from a free by Gerard Smyth in the 14th minute brought the margin down to four with Gary Boyd hitting an excellent point in the 18th minute to restore his side to a five points lead.
Getting to grips
Louth were coming into the play a little bit more at this stage but poor finishing saw them wide on three consecutive occasions before Brian Corcoran pulled back a point in the 26th minute. Gary Boyd fired over his second point in the 27th minute to restore Monaghan to a five point lead but by the half-time whistle that margin was down to the minimum as Louth finished with a flourish.
With Louth in the ascendency, midfielders Donagh O’Sullivan and David Dunne combined to set up the former and the Knockaderry man made no mistake, rifling the ball over Byrne’s crossbar. Murphy’s pointed 65m’ was the last act of the half as Louth clawed their way back into the contest having been sluggish out of the blocks.
Manager Paddy Kelly was a relieved man at the half time whistle as his charges trailed by a solitary point, 0-9 to 0-8 having played in the shadow of the hosts for much of the opening period.
Within a minute of the restart Louth were level with a good point from distance by Shane Callan and they went on to take the lead for the first time with a point from a free by Diarmuid Murphy in the fifth minute but only after Monaghan had squandered two chances, one from a ‘65 and one from a free.
Diarmuid Murphy converted a ‘65 in the sixth minute to put Louth two in front with both sides then squandering chances before Diarmuid Murphy pointed in the 14th minute when he was on hand to exploit a loose ball after Hugh Byrne had taken off a good save to deny Gerard Smyth.
Nineteen minutes of the second-half had elapsed before Marlon registered their first score from the 27th minute of the first half when Stephen Lambe converted a free. Within a minute Lambe had converted another free this time for a foul on Sean Leonard, the effort being made all the easier when the ball was move forward for dissent, and that left the minimum between the sides entering the final 15 minutes of normal time.
Scores were at a premium at this stage with defences dominating although poor finishing also contributed before Brian Corcoran restored Louth to a two points lead in the 27th minute.
Another Stephen Lambe free, this time from foul on Brian McGuigan, brought the margin down to the minimum in the 28th minute but that man Diarmuid Murphy struck again when he converted a free after he himself had been fouled to keep Louth two in front.
With three minutes of normal time remaining Louth struck for what looked a decisive goal that put five points between the sides but within a minute Monaghan had the ball in the Louth net through Stephen Lambe.
Monaghan came close to registering a second goal when Brian McGuigan pulled on a loose ball but his effort just shaved the outside of the post. Louth then opened at three points lead with one minute of normal time remaining when substitute Wesley Morrissey finished well at the end of a quick counter attack.
Back came Monaghan and Stephen Lambe to convert another free to again reduced the deficit to two but Louth now had the scent of victory and they just simply hunted in packs to deny Monaghan time or space with Wesley Morrissey giving them a little breathing space with a point in the 39th minute.
Six minutes into stoppage time Louth effectively wrapped it up when a speculative centre from distance by Donagh O’Sullivan was mishandled over his line by Monaghan ‘keeper Hugh Byrne to put the visitors six in front with Diarmuid Murphy putting the icing on the cake when he converted a free eight minutes into stoppage time to leave seven points in it at the finish and book Louth a spot in the Nicky Rackard Cup Final on June 4 in Croke Park.
Scorers - Louth: Diarmuid Murphy (0-9, 5f, 2 ‘65s’), Shane Callan, Donagh O’Sullivan (1-1) each, Brian Corcoran (0-3), Wesley Morrissey, (0-2), Gerard Smyth (0-1f).
MONAGHAN: Stephen Lambe (1-5, 4f), Gary Boyd (0-2), Michael McHugh (0-2, 2f), Trevor Hilliard, Sean Leonard, Eanne MacSuibhne, Brian McGuigan, all (0-1).
LOUTH: Eddie McArdle; Mark Wallace, Conor Kerrigan, Adrian Wallace; Gerard Smyth 0-1 (f), Ronan Byrne, Diarmuid Murphy; David Dunne, Donagh O’Sullivan; Derek Horan, Shane Callan, Brian Corcoran; Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Peter Brennan, David Kettle. Subs: Shane Fennell for G Smyth (49 mins), Wesley Morrissey for Diarmuid O’Sullivan (62 mins), Darren
O’Hanrahan for P Brennan (72 mins).
Monaghan: Hugh Byrne; Alan Lambe, Paul Murphy, Peter Treanor; Mark Treanor, Padraig Dowdall, Jim McHugh; Gary Boyd, Trevor Hilliard; Stephen Lambe, Sean Leonard, Eanne MacSuibhne; Brian McGuigan, Michael McHugh, Ronan Meegan. Subs: Gavin Dooley for M McHugh (54 mins), Brian Phelan for E MacSuibhne (56 mins), Seamus Roche for R Meegan (65 mins), Martin Murphy for P Treanor (73 mins).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).