Louth suffered their first defeat and failed their first real test of this year’s National hurling League, following a heavy defeat to Donegal in Letterkenny.
In a top of the table clash, both teams knew a victory would secure passage to the final, however a disappointing Louth performance ensured Donegal marched on with the luxury of a game to spare.
There’s no doubt Donegal had revenge on their mind following two heavy defeats to Louth in last years league and Nicky Rackard semi-final but a listless and limp Louth performance was no match for a Donegal team who were hungrier, sharper and more aggressive throughout.
Louth to their credit did start brightly and playing against a very strong wind outplayed Donegal for periods of the first 15 minutes but poor forward play, which has been a real problem throughout this years campaign, ensured Louth only profited with a single point, off the stick of Davy Mahony, who was played into space by a Gerard Smyth cross field ball.
In contrast, the movement, speed and interchange of passes between the Donegal corner forwards and half forward line caused mayhem in the Louth defence all afternoon.
With the scores even, at one point all after 13 minutes, Louth were very fortunate not to find themselves a goal behind when number 15 Ronan McDermott missed a gilt edged opportunity from close in. A high ball into the square deceived the entire full back line and it fell nicely for McDermott, with his back to goal, he fumbled the attempted catch and pulled on the ball first time, but he got his angles wrong and flashed the ball wide.
This was a let off but a clear warning of what was to come over the following 20 minutes, with all three Donegal goals, coming from high balls into the square which the Louth defence were unable to adequately defend against.
A minute later Donegal went ahead with a free from wing forward Lee Henderson, Louth’s response was immediate with David Dunne picking up the puck out, he bust through the heart off the Donegal defence, drew the full back in and popped the ball in to Gerard Smyth who suddenly found himself in on goal, however, Dunne was fouled as he played the pass and the ref blew the whistle for the free, much to the annoyance of the Louth players. Smyth tapped the ball over the bar for the equalising point.
The opening goal of the game came on 20 minutes from corner forward Stephen Boyle, a high ball into the square was not dealt with and Boyle got the slightest of touches, to divert the sliothar into the corner of the net for a very soft goal.
Three minutes later midfielder Donal Cullen scored an excellent long range effort just before the second goal of the game.
Ronan McDermot supplied the finish to make amends for his earlier miss, he tapped the ball into the empty net, to leave the score at 2-5 to 0-2.
Lee Henderson added an additional point to his tally a short time later with an excellent effort from the left wing.
Diarmuid Murphy did respond for Louth on 30 minutes with an impressive shot from long distance against a very strong wind for Louths final score of the half.
Unfortunately for the Wee County, Donegal were not finished yet and midfielder Donal Cullen scored his second long range effort off the afternoon just before Donegal’s third goal.
That goal was a real sucker punch coming just before the half time whistle and although Louth had the advantage off the breeze in the second they had a mountain to climb to try and claw back a 13 point deficit.
Louth got off to a good start with a well taken point from Nigel Stanley, who hooked the ball over the bar from the right wing but just like the first half, scores were hard to come by and Louth had to wait another 20 minutes before they raised the white flag again.
In the meantime, Donegal tagged on five unanswered points to open up a 17 point advantage.
Louth to their credit did battle on and responded with four unanswered scores of their own. Brian Corcoran, a second half substitute, volleyed a Shane Callan free over the bar. Diarmuid Murphy got a good score from a very tight angle from a free, Nigel Stanley got the third and Derek Horan drove a placed ball from midfield straight between the sticks.
Louth missed a penalty but managed to tag on two late injury time scores from Derek Horan to leave the final score at 3-13 to 0-10.
Scorers Louth; Derek Horan 0-3 (3 frees), Diarmuid Murphy 0-2 (1 Free), Nigel Stanley 0-2, Davy Mahony 0-1, Gerard Smith 0-1 (1 Free), Brian Corcoran 0-1.
Donegal: Lee Henderson 1-8 (6 frees), Stephen Boyle 1-0, Ronan McDermott 1-0, Donal Cullen 0-2, Enda McDermott 0-1, Sean McVeigh 0-1, Ciaran Matthewson 0-1
Louth: Johnny Carter, Donal Rafferty, Wesley Morrisey, Domhnall McArdle, Daire McKiernan, Shane Callan, Diarmuid Murphy, Nigel Stanley, Gary Rellis, Andrew Mackin, Darren O’Hanrahan, David Dunne, Davy Mahony, Gerard Smyth, David Kettle. Subs: Derek Horan for Kettle, Brian Corcoran for Hanrahan, Mark Wallace for Smyth, Padraig Egan for Mackin, Shane Maguire for Mahony.
Donegal: Paul Burns, Martin McGrath, Gary Browne, Brian Harigan, Christopher McDermott, Joe Boyle, Jamsie Donnelly, Paul Sheridan, Donal Cullen, Enda McDermott, Sean McVeigh, Lee Henderson, Stephen Boyle, Paddy Hannigan, Ronan McDermott