Louth's Cathal Fleming escapes the attention of a Wicklow player PICTURE: Arthur Kinahan
Electric Ireland Minor Football Championship Group 1 Round 2
Louth 6-09 Wicklow 5-12
Louth and Wicklow played out the most pulsating of draws in round two of the Leinster Minor Football Championship on a sun-kissed Wednesday evening in Ardee – with Ryan Walsh’s late, late leveller rescuing a game which saw the teams share 11 goals.
Seven of those punctuated an extraordinary opening first half of football in Ardee – four to Louth and three to the visitors. Louth were two points to the good as the clocked ticked into injury time at the end too. That was before Eoin Darcy found the roof of the net with a fierce effort to seemingly crush Wee County hearts. Fechins man Walsh’s last gasp free rescused a first point of the campaign for Louth.
There were scores galore throughout in Ardee and wides were in short supply, as were frees early on. Not one pointed effort in the opening 30 minutes were a dead ball. All came from play.
The minor team that embarked on a stunning run to last year’s Leinster final including six Ardee men in the panel so it felt apt that the first home encounter of the round robin format was held at Pairc Mhuire.
With the new age grade dropping from Under 18 to Under 17, none of the sextet are involved in 2018 but in underage hotshot Jonathan Commins and goalscorer last time out Tom Jackson, there was some local interest on a night where the sun split the stones at the Mid-Louth venue.
Their St. Marys teammate Carl Gillespie was out however. He underwent surgery. on a cruciate ligament injury sustained in the round one defeat to Dublin, earlier in the week. Craig Lennon of St Mochta’s came in to replace him.
Ahead of next week’s clash with Meath at the Gaelic Grounds, the management team viewed this as a key opportunity to get off the mark for the campaign – against a Wicklow side edged out by Offaly on matchday one.
The Garden County were without Andy Foley for the visit to Louth, the centre back having been dismissed last time out. He was one of three changes made by Kevin O’Brien.
Just four minutes were on the clock when referee Patrick Maguire from Longford adjudged Jackson to have fouled Matthew Ging. Eoin Darcy converted the penalty. Beforehand, he and Louth captain Daire Nally had exchanged scores.
Commins opened his account moments before Louth got their a goal of their own. Craig Lennon found Sean Healy in space and the Naomh Mairtin man was unselfish to find Rory O’Hanlon who fisted in for 1-02 to 1-01 in the home side’s favour.
Remarkably, there would be four more goals within the next nine minutes of play. Louth stopper Martin McEneaney was helpless to stop diminutive half forward John Keogh find the roof of the net before Ging was afforded too much space to score again just moments later.
Anything Wicklow could do, Louth could match. Nally produced a cool finish after receiving Healy’s pass and then after Lennon was caught in a blue-shirted sandwich, Ryan Walsh dispatched a penalty. That left it 3-03 each after just 17 minutes of play.
Wicklow found scores easier to come by in the period that followed but Joe’s man Conall McCaul found the posts seconds after Walsh hit his second goal, this time from play. It was all level at the break.
On a splendid evening in Ardee, it fell to a Collon man to get the scoring back underway after the interval. Cathal Fleming, up from half back, provided the finish. Anything they can do. Six minutes later, Wicklow wing back Kevin Quinn notched a major of his own.
Keogh split the posts for the Garden County soon after but that was the exception amongst scores for Lennon, Nally and Healy.
When the superb Healy scored Louth’s sixth goal with just over 10 minutes to play, it seemed as if Louth were on course for victory. But three scores in response from O’Brien’s young charges left home supporters on the edge of their seats.
After three minutes of stoppage time, the irrepressible Darcy slammed in his free from the 15 yard line leaving Louth looking down the barrel of a second straight defeat. Walsh spared their blushes.
Louth: Martin McEneaney, Nathan Buckley, Paul McEvoy, Tom Jackson; Cathal Fleming (1-0), Craig Shevlin, Gabriel Bell; Conall McCaul (0-1), Joe Mee, Craig Lennon (0-1), Daire Nally (1-2), Ruairi O’Hanlon (1-1), Sean Healy (1-1), Ryan Walsh (2-1), Jonathan Commins (0-2).
Subs: Finbarr Lynch for Nathan Buckley (31), Micheal Begley for Ruairi Hanlon
Wicklow: Niall Gaffney, Christopher Grimes, David Lawlor, Tom Moran, Kevin Quinn (1-1), Oisin Cullen, Gavin Fogarty, Eoghan Byrne, Sean Doody (0-1), John Keogh (1-1), Eoin Darcy (2-4), Alan Barrett (0-1), Matthew Ging (1-0), Shaun Cranley (0-2), Jack Fleming Foran (0-1).
Subs: Sam Kearney for Oisin Cullen (43), Craig Maguire (0-01) for Jack Fleming Foran (45), Shane Daly for Shaun Cranley (49), John Doyle for Matthew Ging (54), Jason Steed for Gavin Fogarty (60)
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)