Louth manager Mickey Harte during the match with Kildare. (Pic: Sportsfile)
And so Louth’s journey to reach a first Leinster Final goes on, as The Wee County were brought back down to earth with a bang, courtesy of a humbling 16 point loss to very talented Kildare outfit who most certainly have ambitions of not just making the final but lifting the Delaney Cup.
It brought to an end an eight-game winning streak that stretched back well into the National League campaign. However, the Lilys were well prepared for this match and their ruthless attacking streak is something Louth can at this stage only strive to replicate.
Louth manager Mickey Harte was pragmatic at the final whistle, taking the tough defeat on the chin and not hiding from the frailties his team showed which ultimately cost them the tie.
Yet he feels the final score was a bit unjust on the Boys in Red, noting the questionable penalty call and goal they scored courtesy of Liam Jackson which was ruled out for a square ball as major turning points that proved decisive.
“We deserved more than the battering we got” noted Harte. “I don’t think we were in the position to win the game when you look at the game in its totality, but we didn’t really deserve to be on the end of a score line like that.
“It was very disappointing that those key decisions went against us, the penalty and the square ball. It was too far away to be decisive about it, but I thought it seemed harsh enough. They are major turning points in the game, and they kill any opportunity we had of making this a tough encounter.
“Those things that went against us, it meant they were able to keep us at arms-length. That was a pity because our players were trying their best to get back into this game. Every time they seemed to be within touching distance, it was sort of taken from them in a strange kind of way.
Following the win against Carlow, the wily veteran spoke about how Sunday’s clash with Kildare was the perfect opportunity to see exactly where his team stood in the pecking order ahead of what looks to be a cut throat Division Two next year.
Sadly, the gulf the Wee County need to fill looks large on the evidence presented in O’Connor Park, Harte feeling like the level of opposition both teams have been battling in 2022, the likes of Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo versus Wicklow, Antrim and Fermanagh clearly helped Kildare reach higher levels.
“We knew this was a big step up. They were unfortunate to be a Division 2 team now, they were in Division 1 and it looked like they played enough good football to stay there. You don’t play a season in the top tier and not be a hardened side.
“We were coming up from the other side and there is a huge gap to Division 2. Technically we might be in the same division for next year, but it just shows what needs to be done here and the power that will be needed for us to play at that level.”
A major characteristic of Louth’s game this year has been how they finished out all their matches strongly. Be it major turnarounds to grab vital results or just putting the rubber stamping on a contest with a flurry of scores that makes sure the door on any comebacks is firmly closed.
Even in a loss to Laois in the opening round of the National League, The Wee County tagged on a series of scores that almost resulted in a fightback. However, against Kildare, there was no signs of late rally.
“There are obvious reasons for it not happening” stated Harte when questioned about this element of their game going missing. “Conor Early had to come off because he was carrying an injury, Tommy Durnin got a big hit at the end and had to come off.
“Conor Grimes ended up on the sideline beside us and Bevan picked up a dead leg. When you pile all that on top of the situation we were in, it is not hard to see why we were not finishing that strong.”
This is the Tyrone native’s second defeat in the championship since taking over in Louth, having fallen at the first hurdle narrowly to Offaly last year. This year’s defeat comes with the solace of the back door returning.
However, Harte knows a lot more will be needed to prolong their championship, with the new two-tier format meaning there is no easy draws. Regardless of the opposition in the Qualifiers, he sees another tough game as vital to his team being primed for a tough league in 2023.
“It is good that there is another opportunity for them to play football before this season ends. But the other side of that is that there is a Division 1 or 2 team waiting for us, so there is no easy outs in this competition.
“No matter who we meet at this stage they are going to be seasoned, quality teams, so we have a lot of work to do as who knows who we might meet?
“It is a work in progress, the more games they get at this level, they are going to get more experience and know what it takes because next year is going to be another tough haul as every day we go out we will be meeting teams that are well seasoned and very physical.”
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