Louth manager Mickey Harte with his players after the Allianz Football League Division 3 match between Wicklow and Louth. (Pic: Sportsfile)
Ask anyone present at a cold early January afternoon O’Byrne Cup meeting between Louth and Longford would The Wee County have much of a chance of making the jump up to Division Two of the National League and the majority wouldn’t have held out much hope.
Roll that question onto any of the supporters at the National League opener versus Laois a little over a month later where The Men in Red succumbed to another defeat, thoughts were on staying in the division for another year and not wondering who may be in Division Two in 2023.
Yet Mickey Harte always found the positives, always let the media and fans alike know that he was pleased with his team knowing that with a bit of luck on their side this talented group of players could prove their worth.
Move forward to the present day, a win over Wicklow was Louth's fifth straight win meaning The Tyrone native had not only guided them to back-to-back promotions but did so by topping the table. He and his group proved the doubters wrong.
One person who never lost faith is the man who brought this management team to Louth, county board chairmen Peter Fitzpatrick. Speaking to the Democrat following the success in Aughrim, the former player was gleaming for what while lies ahead next season.
“It has been an amazing 18 months for Mickey and Gavin and the whole management team” he noted. “Back then nobody would have believed where we are today. They inherited a young and very inexperienced team and turned them into men which is absolutely fantastic.
“We’ve got a fantastic squad and I’m actually pinching myself, as next year in Division Two we are going to be playing the likes of Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Derry, Cork. This is a dream come through for Louth, for this young panel to experience this at an early age.
“I do believe we are where we deserve to be, and it is important we keep putting in more effort as our goal is to be in Division One eventually. But so far it has been a magic 18 months for the management.”
Promotion hasn’t come easy for the men in red, every one of those victories plus a draw away to Longford came following some hard-fought battles. There was very little separating Louth from the likes of Antrim, Westmeath and Fermanagh yet they showed a ruthless streak in bagging wins.
The former county manager, who was the last man to bring the Wee County to a Division Three final back in 2011, noted their perseverance and bravery in those wins, praising how Harte now has his team finishing out all their matches stronger than the opposition.
“This Louth team has such great grit, look at the last three games. They always seem to get stronger in the last 10-15 minutes. Look at the Antrim game, Antrim got a goal against the run of play, on Sunday Wicklow got one against the run of play, but Louth never panicked.
“They just got on with their football. The minute both those teams got a goal Louth went up and got a point in reply, then kept going and going. There was no complacency as players have so much belief in themselves. It is a very unselfish team who all play for each other.”
Next up is rare chance to pick up some silverware, when Harte’s troops look to continue their upward curve by taking the Division Three Crown. They face Limerick, the other promoted team, in Croke Park this Saturday (Throw in 4:45PM).
The sides met in a gruelling tussle at the University of Limerick earlier this year, a match which was played in horrendous conditions. The original venue, the Gaelic Grounds, was deemed unplayable due the rain fell that weekend.
Going into the tie the Treaty men had yet to taste defeat and were happily at the summit of the table. They were most pundits favourites for promotion, yet fell to Louth who at this stage had not won a game in 2022.
Limerick bounced back well from the loss, winning three of their four remaining league matches, including a must win fixture with Fermanagh last weekend to seal their place in the final.
The County chairmen was full of praise for both sides but stressed in particular how important that win gained in the pouring rain was for reigniting Louth’s season.
“The last time they met, that was a turning point in the league. With 15 minutes to go Louth were behind to a very classy and well organised Limerick team, yet Louth got the last seven points.
“Now whether that was because of the wind, the rain or whatever, it still showed true grit again to come back from the brink.
“I personally think the two best teams in that division were Louth and Limerick and it should be an absolutely fantastic final. Both will be delighted they got promotion, but there is still a National Title to be won.”
Fitzpatrick has been around the county panel as a player, manager and a spectator for many years and has seen many highs and lows for Louth GAA. When arriving into his current role a few years ago he stated one of his goals was rebuilding a strong senior team.
With promotion secured and the team on an upward curve, the final part of his vision for the team is to get a large support out following the team again. He is hopeful Louth Gaels will come out in droves on Saturday to help get the men in Red over the line.
“When I came in as county board chairmen, Louth was at an all-time low and people were saying there is no future in Louth Football. Go back three years ago, we lost every game in Division Three, and were beaten in the championship.
“We said from day one that we have the players, we have the management team now too. All we need is the supporters to get behind us. The team needs that extra bit of a push and I’m just hoping that this is the start of a fantastic generation of talent for Louth GAA.”
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