A JOURNEY which began nearly two months ago in an isolated field down in Kilkenny comes to its final destination in Navan on Wednesday night.
For Colin Kelly and his side the prospect of meeting the Big Smoke in Pairc Tailteann in the Leinster Final is nearly upon them and they enter the clash as massive underdogs (7/1 against or even 10/1 against in some turf accountants).
“We can do nothing about Dublin at this stage, all we can worry about is what’s going to happen on Wednesday night at half seven.
“We’ll be as positive as we can in terms of winning the game. But if we lose on Wednesday, ultimately we’ve failed. The goal was always to win the Leinster championship. We’ve one more team to beat. If we get the result then we win Leinster, if we don’t then we’ve failed,” stated the Louth manager firmly.
The size of the prize on offer is immense. It has been over three decades since Louth last lifted the U21 Leinster Championship and for Kelly and most of his staff it is a new, but not daunting challenge.
“It’s a new experience for us all. Apart from Christy (Grimes) none of us have been involved in a Leinster Final.
“But they’re taking it in their stride at the minute. We’re just concentrating on getting our own game in place for Wednesday. As for nerves we’ll worry about that come Monday evening.”
Kelly also commented on the nature of the job at this level and the changes between club and inter county level.
“It’s a lonely place (on the sideline), at club level you’ve three or four selectors, but at this level you have to stand out on your own and you’re policed in a very orderly fashion by the officials.”
The victory over Offaly in the semi final was all the more remarkable given the siege Louth had to hold out against for the last twenty minutes. Something which Kelly believes has shaped and progressed his team further.
“We had a long hard look at the stats from the Offaly game. Both sides had twenty scoring chances each. At the end when they came strong, there was a bit of panic.
“But ultimately for 40 minutes we totally dominated them. We probably should have been a little bit more ahead and we weren’t and as result that put us under more pressure.
The Louth manager saw the similarities in the patterns of play in the previous matches, but he feels his side are learning as they go.
“The same happened against Longford when they came strong again near the end. But that’s part of football, you have to learn how to close out these games.
“Against Longford we couldn’t get the score to close out the game, but against Offaly we did get it.
“Against Longford we couldn’t get possession of the ball in midfield but against Offaly we eventually did. We’re learning as we go along. It’s a long road to become the complete team. Hopefully if we’re in a position to in the game next Wednesday, we’ll retain the ball a little better.”
Dublin’s run to the final has been seen as the easier of the two and therefore Louth can be seen as being more prepared. This is something which Kelly strongly refutes.
“I don’t believe we’ve had a tougher run. Westmeath had five senior inter county players playing against Dublin.
“It’s about getting your own camp getting to do what you need them to do to in the match. History can’t affect what happens on Wednesday. Dublin have won seven of the last ten minor Championships, but that’s minor this is U21, it’s a different grade.
If we lose next Wednesday it’ll be the first time for us as well,” added Kelly.
Before heading out the door of the Darver Centre of Excellence on Friday night, Kelly was philosophical about his team’s chances on Wednesday, however there was true grit and determination behind the thoughts.
“Whatever happens, we’re going over to Navan to take on Dublin. If we lose we lose, if we win we win. It’s not about moral victories at this stage, it’s about winning on Wednesday night. We’re going to Navan to win the final.”