There were easier All-Ireland qualifier draws available to Louth than the one they got. Yes, there’s been a win in the last five meetings with Westmeath, covering the league and championship, and to be drawn against the midlanders should be welcomed. But there are reasons to be concerned.
Morning Ireland is one of RTE radio’s most-listened to programmes. It always includes news of sport, and on Monday of last week broke new ground when it featured the draw for the qualifiers.
Louth were first out of the hat when it came to the second of the eight pairings, and that, we thought, meant the game would be played at Drogheda, which still carries the county grounds tag. Later in the day, however, the word was the game would be played at a Westmeath venue. This is one of the reasons why the odds will be against Louth advancing to the next stage.
None of the five wins already mentioned have been at Mullingar, or Athlone, or Moate, or even Castletowngeoghan (where your writer once spent a cold and wet November Sunday afternoon covering a National League match sitting on a sideline bench.) Two were at Croke Park, two others at Geraldines’ Haggardstown pitch, and the most recent, at Navan.
And needed it be said that in that mid-April tie any luck about the place came Louth’s way. Until young Danny O’Connor poked a loose ball to the net with time almost up, Westmeath had the look of winners about them. There was a point between the sides at the finish.
The win that got Louth’s five-match winning sequence up and running came in the semi-final of that momentous 2010 Leinster Championship campaign. Westmeath, on the back foot for most of the 70 minutes, got themselves into contention with a late Martin Flanagan goal. But Louth nerves were soothed when substitute, Derek Maguire, placed Colm Judge for a goal at the other end.
Judge is long gone from the panel, while Maguire – surprisingly not given a part to play in the game which followed the defeat of Westmeath - recently joined many of the others on the 2010 squad on the plane to a faraway land.
The job/fun-seekers’ absence, along with others who’ve shipped injuries, had such a debilitating affect on the squad that had been cobbled together for the championship, a recent training session had to be cancelled.
News of the cancellation made national news; hearing it, Westmeath manager, Pat Flanagan, must have been rubbing his hands. Not only might his side be facing a much-changed - and perhaps fractured - opposition from the Pairc Tailteann tie, but if a stimulus was needed, this would surely do the trick.
A win next Saturday would help lift Louth from the dumps, where we’ve all been dwelling since the drubbing by Dublin. There’s no knowing at this stage what the line-up’s going to be, but it will be different from before. Let’s hope it’s pickled with a view to the future, not like the one Trapattoni sent out to play Italy last Monday week.