Ryan Burns tries to get the ball off to a teammate in Louth's O'Byrne Cup clash away to Longford. (Photo: Syl Healy)
O’Byrne Cup 2022 Group 1 Round 1
Louth 0-14 Longford 2-13
It is a sporting cliché as old as time itself. A game of two halves. Those five words pretty much summed up this fascinating O’Byrne Cup clash held at the home of Rathcline GAA in Longford.
Both sides left most of their big guns off the team sheet entirely, with those named on Mickey Harte’s side looking a world ahead of Longford for much of the contest.
Louth came out of the blocks quickly to build up a four-point cushion at the first water break, enhancing that lead to seven points by half time, 0-12 to 0-5.
When substitute Gerard Browne put the Wee County 0-14 to 0-6 in front after 41 minutes, the game looked to be home and hosed. However, the home side, backed by some great performances off the bench notched 2-7 without reply to snatch a win. Not the way Louth had hoped to start 2022.
First day out in January the weather can sometimes be the telling factor as stiff breezes, a wet ball and relentless sheets of rain are the norm but conditions last Saturday were largely decent.
Outside one heavy shower shortly before half time, conditions were as close to ideal as the winter months can give you. No sun in your eyes and a swirling wind that didn’t really factor into proceedings. So there was no excuses outside the obvious rustiness, as to be expected somewhat in pre season.
The men in Red were quick out of the blocks, a high diagonal ball from Liam Jackson finding Conal McCaul who earned the first of many marks on the day. One which he happily tapped over to give his side the lead.
To their credit Longford replied instantly, a quickly taken kick out starting off a fine team move that ended with Dylan Farrell getting fouled. From the ground he impressively blasted it over the black spot to level the contest.
Louth favoured a relatively direct approach to their play in this half, with Tommy Durnin in midfield acting as the playmaker, teeing up attack after attack with high balls into the forwards much of which was won by the impressive Jay Hughes.
The Dreadnots attacker was highly praised for his performances in this year’s Senior championship and brought that form into the Louth team, as the home defence rarely looked able to stop him in the air or when trying to recycle possession quickly whenever gifted the ball in the corner.
Two more scores came form Jackson and Durnin in quick succession as the Wee County regained their lead. The Midlanders once again bounced back with a Darren Gallagher point, but attacks were rare as the half continued.
Louth looked a lot fitter and faster in the opening 35 minutes and this was making life difficult for Longford, who unlike Harte’s troops needed to work much harder just to get within range of a score.
The visitors hit four of the next five courtesy of Ryan Burns, Hughes, Conor Early and Jack Murphy; all keen to impress Harte and Co as they look to earn a long-term spot in the team. At the first water break they lead by 0-7 to 0-3.
The Wee County were relentless, not showing the current holders of the O’Byrne Cup any mercy as they pulled further clear. Three in a row from Hughes backed up by a score from Burns.
Yet things were happening a little too easy for Louth as Longford sat back, doing little in the way of stopping a forward unit in form.
The home side did muster up two more frees, not surprising as referee Alan Coyne awarded 19 frees in the first half alone. And they were needed as even still they trailed by seven points, 0-12 to 0-5 at half time.
Billy O’Loughlin, who was not only making his debut as the manager of Longford but also his inter county debut, could have been flustered with his team struggling so badly for any source of good play but he remained calm on the sideline as he introduced three subs following the break.
Meanwhile Mickey Harte made just the one change, Ger Browne for Dan Corcoran and it was Brown who was to get what turned out to be Louth’s final score of the match. He soloed through the heart of the Midlanders defence before blasting it over the bar.
Slowly the Tyrone native began to ring in the changes. With such a nice cushion, now stretched to eight, why not see what others are made of. Unfortunately, the new players coming in seemed to kill all momentum and flow Louth had in the game, as a hungry Longford came at them.
Suddenly it was the home side that seemed way faster and fitter as the game entered its final third, a running game mixed with accurate longs balls catching Louth out with the speedy runs from Darragh Doherty and Aidan McGuire in particular causing chaos.
The first of two decisive goals came on 53 minutes, Oran Kenny doing well to win possession before waltzing through the defence and burying it home past Niall Carrie.
Three more points late into the half saw the sides go level for just the second time in the match on 63 minutes, only for another goal to seal the victory for the reigning champions.
A mistake from Donal McKenny allowed Ross McNerney in on goal and he made no mistakes in blasting the ball past the Hunterstown Rovers shot stopper, while a further two points added gloss to a remarkable Longford comeback.
Louth have no time to dwell on the defeat, with two more O’Byrne Cup matches to come this week. They face Dublin in Parnell Park this evening (Throw in 7:30PM) before welcoming Offaly to Ardee on Saturday (Throw in 2PM).
LOUTH: N Carrie; D Corcoran, D McKenny, N Sharkey; C McKeever, S Healy, L Grey; C Early (0-1), T Durnin (0-1); L Jackson (0-1), E Callaghan, J Murphy (0-1); J Hughes (0-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 mark), C McCaul (0-1 mark), R Burns (0-2 marks). Subs G Browne (0-1) for Corcoran (HT), D Nally for L Jackson (45), T Jackson for McKeever (45), S Marry for Callaghan (48), G Bell for Grey (48), K McElroy for Hughes (56), C Fleming for McCaul (61).
LONGFORD: M Hughes; P Fox, R Moffett, J Kiernan; Dessie Reynolds (0-1), M Quinn (0-1), I O’Sullivan; D Gallagher (0-3 frees), T McNevin; E McCormack, J Shiels, Daniel Reynolds; J Hagan (0-2), D Farrell (0-4, 0-3 free), O Kenny (1-0). Subs: J Moran for Kiernan (HT), A McGuire for McNevin (HT), D Doherty (0-1) for Daniel Reynolds (HT), R Fitzgibbon for McCormack (45), R McNerney (1-1, 0-1 free) for Shiels (45), D O’Connell for Dessie Reynolds (49), Dessie Reynolds for Farrell (56).
Referee: A Coyne (Westmeath)
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.