If, as they say, success breeds success, we can only speculate on how much better Louth senior footballers’ league campaign would have been had the opening game with Armagh ended in a win and not a draw.
The two points should have been retained that day in Drogheda. Playing to an Aidan O’Rourke plan that had worked so well in the manager’s first year in charge, when a league campaign yielded enough points to make a Division Two place safe and the championship display away to Laois was every bit as good as anything we’d seen since the 2010 defeat of Kildare at Navan, the Reds went nine points clear ten minutes in the second-half.
Ciaran Byrne, the finest the county has produced since Paddy Keenan, was no longer available having headed Down Under to play Aussie Rules, and linchpins, Shane Lennon and Ray Finnegan, were also missing; but the others were doing fine.
Louth had two options, play safe by closing shop, which is always risky, or continue with the flair that had been so evident in the first 35 minutes. Neither was taken. Instead, management experimented, giving three peripheral players some game-time, sending them into attack as replacements for a trio who were making a huge contribution to the team’s wellbeing.
In normal circumstances, taking a point from this fixture would have been the cause of some celebration, but this result was a real downer, one from which there was no recovery. With confidence draining, and morale seemingly at a low level, the team, showing changes in every subsequent outing, claimed just one further point from a possible 12.
Would it have been any different had there been a win in the opener? Who knows?
Aidan O’Rourke has his work cut out as he looks towards the championship. To begin with, he has a panel to strengthen. It will help if those currently on the injured list get better.
Derek Maguire should be ready for the May 17 away tie with Westmeath, and by then Shane Lennon can be expected to be at peak fitness. However, Colm Judge, who sustained a broken ankle in the league match with Donegal, is unlikely to be togged out at Cusack Park
But perhaps the biggest task facing the manager is repairing morale and bringing some togetherness back to the set-up. The focus will be off the team for the next month or so, which is no bad thing. Let O’Rourke find himself a hymn sheet - the one he had with him at O’Moore Park last summer and in Drogheda back in early February will do fine – and get all to sing for it.
Louth’s not going to win the championship, any championship, this year, next year or the year after that. There’s too much ground to be made up on the major contenders, whose underage and colleges’ structures are much better than this county’s and as a consequence more likely to provide a constant stream of talented players.
But gloomy as it’s been for the past few months, the team O’Rourke and his sidekicks sends out in Mullingar should, if properly focussed, be able to clear the first hurdle at least.