For this Championship campaign, this reporter tried to refrain, as much as possible from mentioning the events of July 11, 2010.
I had taken a vow that after the Allianz League Division Three win over Westmeath, that the Leinster Final was put to bed. The only way I wanted to type it again was if Louth made the final this year.
Well, my vow did not last very long.
The disastrous exit at the hands of Carlow led to the Gods of football conjuring up a sumptuous clash that will capture the glare of the whole country on Saturday night.
Despite it being a home venue for Louth, Breffni Park is where one of the most anticipated rematches in Gaelic football’s rich history will take place. To say that the Cavan venue will be a melting pot is understatement of the year.
Last year, as the Delaney Cup stood aloft in the Hogan Stand, the tension inside headquarters was palpable. This Saturday, no silverware will be present, but the tension will be equally as high, if not greater as Louth and Meath fans will mix for the first time since that historic day.
Whilst the whole county are talking about revenge, refreshingly, Louth players are not. For a start, they just want to keep playing football for large parts of the summer with their county and the only way they know they can achieve that is by beating Meath and going further up and the ladder of the qualifiers.
Failure to beat the Royals will result in a handshake with the management and teammates and a return to the club scene, much sooner than expected. It’s a must win for them for around 100 reasons, never mind revenge.
But what of revenge? For much of the year, the team, supporters Louth officials have tried, in vain it must be said, to put the Leinster Final behind them.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Paddy Keenan and Peter Fitzpatrick were two of the most high profile victims of the Martin Sludden call.
Every phone call or interview in the wake of the event, to the Louth captain and manager, invariably involved a question about the events that transpired in Croke Park.
By the time the Championship came around, they must have thought those questions would fade away, but a shocking loss to Carlow suddenly blew the dam right back open again as questions over last year came flooding back in.
It’s not just Keenan and Fitzpatrick though as the whole squad has been affected by the events of last year. Whether it’s pictures in the paper, hearsay on the streets or the opinions of the media locally or nationally, things always finds a way of getting back to the players.
But out of all these opinions, one should spur them on more than most and it’s one that was banded about last year and even today; That had Meath offered Louth a replay, they would have easily beaten them. Is that so?
It’s a theory that certainly galls Paddy Keenan and it should strike a nerve with those who played in the final last year.
Many people fail to forget that Louth were sub-par in the first half and had chances in either period to finish off the Royals. Had they of shown the form in the first 35 minutes that they displayed after the interval, Louth could have made it a one sided affair.
But yet still, many have came to the conclusion that Meath would have proved a point in the fairytale replay and won handily, proving they were indeed the rightful heirs to the Leinster throne.
Yes, there was the Joe Sheridan goal, the Sludden decision and everything that came with it, but the referee’s decision was his, not Meath’s. Sheridan did what any other player would have done, as hard as that is to admit, so if Louth are to take revenge against anyone, it’s the doubters on the street, those who say that on that day, the Wee County were not good enough.
This team, when it plays to the best of their ability is certainly good enough to beat last year’s and this year’s Meath team, but it’s all about turning up on the day.
Some say it’s just a game, but after the events of last year, one can argue that’s much more important than that.
For 70 minutes on Saturday night, Louth’s players have their fate in their own hands. At the end, they can either wave goodbye to each other for the summer months, or pat each other on the back for a job well done.
The insufferable hurt from the Croke Park dressing room last year may have eased considerably, but the scene that was witnessed post Carlow came somewhat close to matching it in terms of doom and gloom as players stood shell-shocked, speechless and desolate. They don’t need the pain of the Leinster Final anymore as it’s been replaced by a new, familiar pain, something that can be used as a weapon against Meath this week.
There’s no Leinster throne at stake, but yet the stakes seem somehow higher.
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