ST Patrick’s travel to Tullamore on Sunday to face Offaly champions Rhodes in the first round of the Leinster Club Championship and goalkeeper Sean Connor believes that the Lordship side now possess the experience needed to make a serious assault on provincial honours.
This will be Pats’ fifth attempt at Leinster but Connor feels that they have only done themselves justice on two occasions. Those were in 2003, when, after beating The Downs - their only victory thus far in the competition - Pat’s were edged out by eventual winners St Brigid’s and last year when they were narrowly beaten by Portlaoise in a game marred by some questionable refereeing decisions.
Defeat by a Johnny Doyle led Allenwood in 2004 and a heavy loss to Portlaoise in Dowdallshill three years later were sandwiched in between and Connor feels this year provides Fergal Reel’s side with their best opportunity of doing what no other Louth team has down in the past, winning the competition outright.
“In 2003 we gave it a right good go”, said Connor. “We beat The Downs in Mullingar and we pushed St Brigid’s all the way in Dowdallshill. They went on to win it that year.
“2004 and 2007 didn’t go well for us though. In 2004 we had a lot of older players coming to the end of their careers and in 2007 we were a young group who maybe just didn’t have that experience that you need. We have that now and, especially after last year, we are determined to give it a heck of a shot”.
Memories of last year’s defeat to Portlaoise are still fresh in the minds of the Pat’s players.
After making a slow start, which saw them trail 1-6 to 0-4 at the break, Reel’s men stunned Portlaoise - ranked 10/1 on before the game the bookies - and looked set to win the game when Ray Finnegan broke clear in stoppage time only for referee Derek Fahey to pull him back for over carrying.
The Longford official was at the centre of attention again in extra-time, giving a hotly disputed penalty against Finnegan when Pat’s were three points ahead thanks to a Karl White goal. It proved crucial in the end as Portlaoise ran out winners by a single point.
Connor, who was injured that day, will never forget the feeling afterwards.
“It was unreal and probably the best game of football I’ve seen in a long time. The lads were shattered after that game. They were leaving the pitch with tears in their eyes and it was heartbreaking.
“The referee didn’t do us justice on the day but we gave Portlaoise a 25 minute start before we finally got going”, he added. “The outcome would have been completely different if we had been right from the start. We might get away with that in Louth but not in Leinster”.
Louth has been a bit of a canter for Pat’s this year and Connor admits they were rarely pushed to the limit.
“We would have liked tougher games this year”, he said. “We played DCU in a challenge game last week and that was what we needed. It’s tough trying to turn form on but we know what it will take to beat Rhodes and hopefully we can learn the lessons from last year”.
The road to the final could not come any tougher for Pat’s. If they overcome Rhodes, opposition from Kildare and then Dublin or Westmeath provide the obstacles. Connor, though, insists they are not looking that far ahead just yet.
“If you want to win the competition then you have to beat the best teams and Rhodes will be a very tough assignment”, he said. “We had people watch them recently and their full forward line is very impressive.
“They got to the Leinster final a few years ago and they have just won their 25th senior title so you know they are a well run and organised club but we are confident”, he added.
“We have won five of the last 10 Louth Senior Championships and we want to be up there with the likes of Rhodes and Crossmaglen Rangers who not only dominate their counties but make an impression on Leinster.”
Like last year, Pat’s go into the first round as outsiders with the bookies to progress but Connor feels they might be worth a flutter.
“We are going down there as the underdogs but that is solely because Louth doesn’t have a great history in the competition. We were rank outsiders last year and nearly did it so let’s hope the bookies have it wrong again this year”.