Louth captain Sam Mulroy Picture: Sportsfile
Louth 0-19 Leitrim 0-10
It came one week later than expected but the Mickey Harte era has finally gotten it’s first win, and what a way to remember it by rubber stamping it with an emphatic performance that sees them right back in the hunt for promotion.
Louth ran out easy winners in end, in what was a very peculiar contest in which the visitors were on top for most of the first half yet were behind by a point at half time, but unfortunately for the home side their challenge petered out staggeringly as the Wee County notched 12 unanswered points to coast to an easy 0-19 to 0-10 victory.
After both sides losses on the opening weekend of the National League, it was built as a do or die contest, a championship like intensity was expected for the tie which was effectively a knock out match but it always lacked that feel in a game that can be broken into three phases.
The visitors dominated for large periods of the opening to build an early cushion, before Terry Hyland’s troops hit back with a bang after the water break with a ten minute spell of dominance to take the lead at half time, before being totally outplayed for the duration of the second half.
Louth were ruthless, keeping the home side off the ball for prolonged periods of play, while taking most chances that fell their way, while Leitrim looked completely off the pace as their promotion hopes went up in smoke.
With so much on the line, mistakes from both sides riddled the opening few minutes of the game, a mixture of loose passing and handling errors meaning neither were able to get an edge early on.
The home side had a strong wind backing them up in the first half, but struggled to take advantage of it, almost always taking the wrong kicking option or just going for the kick into the same left corner at every opportunity, rarely winning the ball clean in the air or from the breaking ball.
Louth tended to go through the phases, not afraid to keep the ball for prolonged periods while searching for the right opportunity to strike, always looking much more composed on the ball then the men in green and gold.
Letrim’s tactics did see them taking the opening score on six minutes, a long diagonal ball finding Keith Beirne who rose highest to win possession, took the mark and popped the ball over the bar, but from here they went 21 minutes without raising a white flag.
The men in red opened their account three minutes later, breaking at speed from a kick out in an impressive display of turning defence into attack, Sam Mulroy was on the end of a brilliant team move and was denied a goal after a fine save from Brendan Flynn before scoring the resulting 45.
The next five minutes saw Hyland’s troops struggle to get out of their own half, and they were turned over three times in a row, whether going short or long from kick outs, the end result was Louth regaining possession.
Anthony Williams, Mulroy (2) and Ciaran Downey all pointed, leaving the Wee County 0-5 to 0-1 in front going into the water break, such was Leitrim’s inability to get out of their own half they created pretty much nothing other than one wide in a very poor period for the home side.
The introduction of the water breaks since Covid-19 has allowed teams to find a new lease of life, a chance for a manager to get a message across before too much damage is done.
Hyland is a long time in the game and knows very well how to motivate players, with his words during this 60 second stoppage in play clearly having the desired effect.
Almost immediately they were gifted a chance back into the game, a poor kick out from the inexperienced Martin McEneaney playing in Darragh Rooney, whose ambitious effort from the corner came close to chipping the St Patrick’s clubman.
Louth hit another point on 24 minutes through a Mulroy free, but from here it was one way traffic as the Wild Rose County took control of proceedings.
Suddenly it was the Louth kickouts that came under pressure, as Leitrim upped the intensity and pace of their game, finally getting the most out of the breeze as they kicked long and kept their opponents boxed into their own half.
Beirne ended their barren spell with a point on 27 minutes, before quickly adding another from play after a poor kick out from McEneaney, while long, diagonal and accurate passes teed up further points for Beirne, Mark Plunkett and Conor Dolan to remarkably take a 0-7 to 0-6 lead into the dressing rooms.
Mickey Harte didn’t win multiple All Ireland’s by being nice and showed a ruthless streak to his character when subbing his keeper, who was only playing his second game for Louth having made his debut versus Antrim a week earlier, for the much more experienced Craig Lynch.
Lynch couldn’t have had an easier day, barely touching the ball outside an odd kick out as the men from the West completely buckled under pressure in the second half.
It started so promising as a nice solo run from Oisin Madden teed up Beirne as Leitrim widened the gap to two points on 37 minutes, but from here the traffic was as one way as could be humanly possible in what must have been one of the worst halves of football by Leitrim in many years.
Louth’s new captain came into his own, Mulroy getting much of the ball playing at centre half forward and featuring much more prominently than a week earlier when deployed closer to goal.
He was front and centre to everything good about the Wee county during this phenomenal purple patch, soloing through the heart of the Leitrim defence to tee up Conor Grimes and Dan Corcoran to level proceedings on 45 minutes.
He duly pointed from a placed ball to put Louth into a lead they never relinquished, teed up Ciaran Byrne then pointed again, before a further score from Downey had Louth up by 0-12 to 0-8 at the second water break.
The break did not change anything this time, as Leitrim couldn’t hold onto possession, struggled to win any kickout and quite frankly looked like they were out of ideas as Louth continued to win the key battles across the field.
Six further scores came for the Wee County, two from Jackson, two from substitute Declan Byrne and one apiece from Ciaran Keenan and Mulroy, all from play in impressive style putting any notions of a comeback well and truly to bed.
After over half an hour without as much an inkling of a shot at goal, a Beirne 45 ended their barren spell but at this stage the game was little more than a challenge match as Louth showed just what they are capable of under the tutelage of Mickey Harte.
Louth: Martin McEneaney; Dan Corcoran (0-01), Dermot Campbell, Donal McKenny; Liam Jackson (0-02), Anthony Williams (0-01), Eoin Callaghan; Bevan Duffy, Ciaran Byrne (0-01); Ciaran Keenan (0-02), Sam Mulroy (0-06, 4f), Ciaran Downey (0-2); Matt Corcoran, Conor Grimes (0-1f), Ryan Burns. Subs: Craig Lynch for McEneaney (HT); Emmet Carolan (0-01) for Corcoran (39); Declan Byrne (0-02) for Burns (42); Neil Sharkey for McKinney (42).
Leitrim: Brendan Flynn; Conor Reynolds, Paddy Maguire, David Bruen; Oisin Madden, Jack Gilheaney, Cillian McGloin; Dean McGovern; Donal Wrynn; Shane Quinn, Mark Plunkett (0-4, 2f), Keith Keegan; Darragh Rooney, Keith Beirne (0-5, 1f, 1M), Conor Dolan. Subs: Evan Sweeney (0-01) for Keegan (22); Pierce Dolan for McGloin (HT); Ryan O’Rourke for McGovern (55); Tom Prior for Rooney (59); Oisin McCaffrey for Wrynn (64).
Referee: P Maguire (Longford)
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