Think what it would have been like had Louth been beaten by Galway in Saturday’s league tie. Of course fears of relegation would have been expressed; two played, no points and an away match coming up next. It’s looking bad.
The result from the previous Tuesday evening’s Leinster U21 Championship match would have come into the equation, the two results being linked. Nothing coming through; we’re surely headed for the bad old days.
The underage result stands, the younger Reds having been outclassed by Meath. But what’s there at senior is better than we thought it was on the day of the opening round match with Westmeath, or, indeed, at any stage of the O’Byrne Cup, which threw up more wins than defeats.
In fact, what was seen at Drogheda’s Gaelic Grounds on a bitterly cold day that gave itself up to flurries of snow in the second half was the best since the 2010 Championship quarter-final defeat of Kildare. Something, surely, to warm the cockles of the heart.
As was the case at Navan three seasons ago, we didn’t see this coming. It was a re-fixture, and surprisingly - mystifyingly, to some - Aidan O’Rourke came up with a much-changed side from the one selected for the previous fortnight. What is he at? Answer: He knows what he’s at. And what’s more, the players know what he wants from them.
In disposing of the favourites for Division Two honours with a lot of hard graft, making it all look so easy in the end, the 15 who took to the field and the five who came in during the course of the 70 minutes played as if reading from a script.
There was clever movement along and some fine score-taking in the forward line, tigerish tackling at the back, and with Paddy Keenan in no way inconvenienced by having to change partners, midfield was productive throughout.
It’s not wise to get carried away, especially after just one good performance; but the suggestion in Drogheda was, whatever a player’s best is O’Rourke will be able to extract it from him.
The rookie county team boss would probably admit it himself he’s far from having a settled side - if, indeed, there’s such a thing, given that nearly always 20 players are employed over the course of the good as well as the mediocre 70 minutes. But he knows how he wants the game played, and, on Saturday’s evidence, so, too, did those in his charge.
O’Rourke’s not slow to pull a rabbit from the pack. Okay, so there was the starting line-up, but there was more, and it came in the shape of the half-time substitute.
There was a time when your writer could identify most players, especially those in or on the periphery of county panels. But now, more than a little removed from the scene, it was necessary to put in an inquiry as to who the young man was who was being put through his paces during the interval.
“That’s Casey,” said someone sitting close by.
“Yes, Ciaran Byrne, from the Mochta’s, Declan’s brother, Brendan’s son.” (It must be said at this point there’s someone else worthy of a mention – Pauline, the young man’s mum, who’s as fanatical as the rest when it comes to football.)
Ciaran, or “Casey”, was mentioned here before – at the time news broke of him being signed up to play Australian Rules. Word then was that he’d be heading Down Under as soon as he completed his Second Level schooling.
If there’s been a change in plan, Aidan O’Rourke would surely welcome it. Every bit as lively as he was with the county minors, the Louth Village youngster scored with his first touch of the ball after coming in for the second half, and was narrowly wide with a few others shots he took at Manus Breathnach’s goals. He increases even further the management’s attacking options, and fits nicely into the ‘exciting prospect’ bracket.
A few other observations. The Galway team was, overall, as small as we’ve ever seen. No Noel Tierneys, or Jack Cosgroves, or TJ Gilmores, or Joe Bergins in this line-up. Maybe there’ll be better coming from Gary Sweeney, and Sean Denvir, and Micheal Meehan when the ball hops higher and the ground’s dusty. But in this game the wearers of the maroon jersey, a lot of them only five foot-plus, had no answer to the ferocity of the Louth play, or their point-taking.
Gary Fahy is not this county’s favourite arbitrator, and in this game made a number of decisions that brought groans from both sets of supporters. But he was a lot less pernickety than Dublin’s Gary McCormack, who handed out 19 cards when Louth played Westmeath. A plea: Some consistency, please.
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