It’s good to be going to Croke Park for a championship match, especially one that is heavily laden with appeal
Louth seniors’ game there on Sunday is against the All-Ireland title-holders, Dublin, and, really, second round provincial matches don’t come much bigger than this.
Okay, let’s get this out of the way first. It’s just 12 months shy of four decades - which is another way of saying 39 years – since a Louth last scored a win over Dublin in the championship. The 1973 tie went to a replay, was played at Navan, and as a prize the team coached by Jimmy Mulroy qualified to meet Offaly, the All-Ireland winners of the previous year. That one went the whole way, Offaly scraping home.
There have been about seven or eight meetings of the counties since; on a couple of occasions a Louth win was on, but for a variety of reasons it didn’t materialise. Two key players were, as they say, taken out of it at a crucial stage in a Croke Park meeting in 1992, and a few years after that, Dublin dealt from the bottom of the pack at Navan and got away with it.
For many, many years Dublin were the auld enemy, the team Louth most loved to beat. Meath now fill that role; but that’s not to say there’s been some kind of love-in between the red and sky-blue.
True, the people who congregate on the Hill were sympathetic towards Louth, chanting ‘champione’ in response to one of Croker’s great injustices, two years ago; but, remember, that was after their side had beaten the lard out of the Reds in the All-Ireland qualifiers. Had Louth somehow been able to overcome the trauma of a few weeks earlier and manufacture a win that day, you can take it the Dubs’ home from home would have been silent.
In ways it’s just as well Louth didn’t saunter their way past Westmeath last Sunday week, instead of having to go well into injury-time to scramble a winning goal. A cake-walk would have raised expectations, maybe even prompt pundits to predict a surprise. That’s not going to happen.
On the night of the Navan match, The Sunday Game’s Tony Davis dismissed Louth’s chances out of hand, while Kevin McStay could only comment on how bullish Peter Fitzpatrick was in his post-match comments. This weekend’s papers will be all Dublin, with the bookies giving fancy odds about Louth. Maybe that’s the way to have it.
There are a number of key players who can only do better than the last day. They must, if there’s to be any chance of causing a surprise. As for going 20 minutes without a score? A repeat is simply not on.
But, hey, regardless of how it might result, this is a game to be at. The sun could be high in the sky, there’ll be 15 Louth players, to start with, doing their best, and if the ball hops away from the Brogans, and Macauley, and O’Carroll, and Bryan Cullen, and especially ‘Clucko’, we could be celebrating a first championship win over Dubs at Croker since 1957.
By Joe Carroll