Louth's Donal Ryan and Aaron Kenny of Monaghan in action during this afternoon's Nicky Rackard clash at Dowdallshill. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
Nicky Rackard Cup
Louth 0-18 0-18 Monaghan
Louth hurlers will face Leitrim in a play-off to determine whether they will play in the Nicky Rackard or Lory Meagher Cup in 2019.
It follows today's thrilling draw with Monaghan in Dowdallshill - the Reds now end their group campaign winless after the previous losses to Warwickshire and Longford.
Like in those prior reverses, the Wee County lacked a clinical forward to lead their attack. Seaghan Conneely and David Kettle battled credibly in the inside-line, yet they were rarely able to get ball-in-hand close to goal.
Considering Monaghan were the county whose pleas saw the Arthur brothers - Niall and Gerry - have their permits to play for Louth withdrawn, it was ironic that the Wee County's scoring threat was their principle downfall. After all, the Arthurs hit 7-51 between them in the five matches they played for Philip O'Brien's men.
However, in Paddy Lynch, they had the game's outstanding marksman. The St. Fechin's man finished with 10 converted frees to his name as Louth threatened to pull off a shock victory. But the fact that Louth only scored five points from play tells a tale of what might have been, especially had Monaghan not equalised with almost the last play.
The Reds led 0-10 to nine at the interval, with seven of the Reds' points coming from frees - Paddy Lynch with 0-5 and two longer-range efforts from Ronan Byrne. Defensively they were dominant, while they held the lion's share of the play at midfield, but it was evident that the Farney men could score more freely from open-play, even when second best in the opening half. All but three of their first-half points came from play, with Fergal Rafter reliable on the other occasions from frees.
Monaghan took the lead for the first time on 31 minutes when Rafter converted his third free of the contest and, as it proved, it was the only time they held the advantage. Beforehand, the sides had been level four times as Trevor Hilliard's side continually pegged Louth back.
Stephen Kettle and Lynch (free) got the scoring underway in the early minutes, though Monaghan were on terms by the sixth minute after points from Pat Finnegan and Mark Treanor.
Playing with the stiff breeze at their backs, Louth registered four of the next six minors, all from placed balls, before re-taking the lead on 26 minutes - after Rafter (2) had levelled the encounter - with a second mammoth effort from centre-back Byrne.
A run of three points in four minutes, with Conor Flynn, Conor Boyle and Rafter on target, saw the Ulster county nudge in front, however, Louth ended the stronger as David Kettle and Mark Molloy sent them to half-time with a slender lead.
The opening eight points of the second half were shared, with Lynch (three frees) and Gerard Smyth - who fired the score of the day from 70 metres - on target, as Louth remained narrowly ahead approaching the 50th minute.
An Eamon Collins point - his second of the contest - drew the sides level for a seventh time, though another free from the unerring Lynch reinstated Louth's advantage.
Conneely and Lynch (free) extended the gap to three before Rafter and Byrne traded frees as the Wee County led by three with seven minutes to play.
Monaghan's frustration with referee Gearóid McGrath grew as the match progressed, and they reached boiling point just a minute before full-time when, with the visitors trailing by three, midfielder Treanor was dismissed on a second yellow card.
They dug-in, however, finishing with the last three points as substitute Power tied the teams at 0-18 apiece, thus ensuring Monaghan of a place in the competition's last four.
Louth, meanwhile, must defeat the Ridge County to maintain their Rackard Cup standing.
Louth: Stephen Hackett; Mark Wallace, Mike Lyons, Caoimhín Seery; Andrew McCrave, Ronan Byrne (0-3, all frees), Stephen Kettle (0-1); Donal Ryan, Mark Molloy (0-1); Paddy Lynch (0-10, all frees), Shane Callan, Seaghan Conneely (0-1); Gerard Smyth (0-1), David Kettle (0-1), John Crosbie
Subs: Liam Molloy for Ryan (29), Michael Ryan for Crosbie (50)
Monaghan: Patrick Bermingham; James Guinan, Kevin Cawley, Brian Flanagan; Patrick Finnegan (0-1), Peter Treanor, Martin Murphy; Mark Treanor (0-2), Aaron Kenny; Conor Boyle (0-1), Fergal Rafter (0-11, 10 frees), Cormac McNally; Conor Flynn (0-1), Eamon Collins (0-2), Tadhg Campbell
Subs: Brian McGuigan for McNally (HT), Cathal Power (0-1) for Flynn (67)
Referee: Gearóid McGrath (Wexford)