Louth senior footballers beat Cavan in the last round of the 2009 National League to avoid making the ignominious drop to Division Four. The game was played at Drogheda, and as was right and proper, there was no cheering or back-slapping when the game finished, just a huge sigh of relief.
On Sunday last, the county’s current crop of senior footballers headed for Navan, their aim, to preserve Division Two status. They did the business in quite remarkable fashion, beating Meath into a cocked hat.
Unlike three years ago, the ref’s final blow of his whistle was greeted with the kind of celebration normally reserved for a championship win, maybe even a final - hugging and kissing and loud shouts of “Come on the Wee County.”
OTT? Not at all.
This wasn’t all about just avoiding a quick return to Division Three. Beating Meath in a game that mattered was as important as anything else. Here was a county, after all, that had inflicted defeat on Louth over the years in important matches, helped quite often by dodgy decisions and more than a modicum of good luck.
Croke Park 1998, Navan 2002, and, does it really have to be listed, Croke Park 2010? Those, in particular, stuck in the craw, and before then there were other reverses in the years since Louth last scored a league win over the Royals, back in 1990.
Understandable, therefore, was Sunday’s post-match show of emotion – and those involved would be telling you a lie if they hadn’t just learned that defeat consigned Meath to Division Three.
Going into the match it seemed that even if they were beaten, the team schooled by Seamus McEneaney would still stay up. They had a better score difference than fellow basement-dwellers, Monaghan or Westmeath, who were due to to play Tyrone and Derry, respectively. But score difference didn’t matter. Westmeath beat Derry, a result that should be noted by Louth, who play the Lake County in the opening round of the championship at Navan on the 20th of next month.
The memory of Louth’s championship win over Kildare at the same venue two years ago came flooding back on Sunday. The Reds were again in the role of underdog but took no notice. Paddy Keenan chose to play with the wind in the opening half, and he and his colleagues quickly went about testing the loyalty of the Meath team and its supporters to manager McEneaney.
Seemingly, the man known as ‘Banty’ has as many enemies as supporters in his adopted county. The question was asked here last week: how would the knockers react if Louth raced into an early lead. Not good is the answer – and even worse when it came near to half-time. With Louth ahead by 14 points, several of them headed for the gate.
Those who stayed had only about five minutes of comfort in the second half. A Stephen Bray point followed by a Tom Walsh goal gave a hint of a revival, but it only took the second of Derek Maguire’s goals to put an end to that. Thereafter, as they say, the game became something of a farce.
Meath lost their heads – and two players, midfielders Meade and Ward – and Louth strung together six, seven, eight, and nine-men moves, each touch of the ball drawing a huge ‘hooray’ from supporters. A warning: this sort of carry-on can come back to haunt. Meath followers were at it in an All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Kerry, but when odds-on, their team got turned over in the final by Galway.
Meath ‘won’ the second half on Sunday by 1-5 to 1-2. That was enough to comfort one of their more genuine supporters as he made his way out of the grounds. However, another, who your writer remembers congratulating after the 2010 Leinster final, difficult as it was, said the referee was only a whatever-you’re-having-yourself.
Louth people pointed the finger at Sludden, White and Gorman when there was, at most, just two points between the sides in those matches mentioned above; but here was someone complaining about Michael Collins at the end of a game that had a nine-point dividing margin. Perhaps another voice should have been added to the after-match chorus before the Reds had earlier vacated Pairc Tailteann, instead of sticking rigidly to Press box decorum.
Previously unsung heroes were brilliant for Louth, Dessie Finnegan, Ronan Carroll and corner-forward Maguire. Jamie Carr was solid at No 6 and Padraig Rath did everything he tried very effectively. Gerard Hoey got into a scrap with the 6ft-plus James Queeney, and the temptation was there to shout out at the Geraldines player to hit someone his own size.
All round, a good day for this side of The Boyne.