08 Dec 2021

Something’s got to give in Newbridge on Saturday

Here’s one for you ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier: Kildare have never beaten Louth in a senior championship match at Newbridge.

Here’s one for you ahead of Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier: Kildare have never beaten Louth in a senior championship match at Newbridge.

Admittedly, only two of the 30 knock-out games played between the counties since the first at Dublin’s Clonturk Park over a century ago have been played at St Conleth’s Park. Still, it’s a stat worth bearing in mind ahead of a tie that brings into focus yet again the route Aidan O’Rourke’s career as a footballer and manager has taken.

Paul Kenny brought his side to the midlands for a 1995 Leinster Championship tie, the first-ever at the preliminary stages of a provincial competition to be shown live in TV, and with Colin Kelly in form, Louth fashioned a 0-13 to 0-11 win to qualify for the semi-final. Then six years ago, there was a 1-16 to 1-10 win for the visitors in an All-Ireland qualifier, Paddy Keenan’s late goal putting paid to a Kildare rally.

Eamon McEneaney was in charge then, and victory put the Monaghan man’s side into the third round, in which Cork – who would progress to the All-Ireland final – proved a couple of points too good.

Now it’s Aidan O’Rourke’s turn to head to a venue with which he’s entirely familiar. Before taking up the Louth reins, the Dromintee man linked with his long-time Armagh county team colleague, Kieran McGeeney, and it was at St Conleth’s where the pair plotted Kildare’s course over a period of time.

The situation facing him on Saturday – sitting in the opposite corner to someone he was once in cahoots with – won’t be new to O’Rourke. The recent National League wasn’t long in progress when he brought his recruits to Portlaoise to face a side coached by another of the sidekicks he shared All-Ireland glory with ten years ago, Justin McNulty - and, of course, that rivalry was renewed when Louth faced Laois a few months later in the championship.

In between those two games Louth had a crucial away league meeting with Armagh, and jousting with O’Rourke on the line that Saturday night in the Primal City was Paul Grimley, who filled a pivotal management role for the Applemen’s famous 2003 victory.

Is it an omen? In none of those three games did O’Rourke’s charges taste defeat, his record standing at two wins and a draw. Undoubtedly he’s hoping this can be improved on. But he should know that McGeeney has something going for him as well. Kildare have never been beaten in a qualifier since the All-Star made it down among the sheep, soldiers and sharpshooters (sometimes) six years ago.

Something’s got to give, and if it’s to be McGeeney’s record, Louth will have to put their Portlaoise game on show.

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