Rob Kearney in action for the Louth minors in 2003. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
It’s 15 years since Louth produced one of its most productive minor teams.
Nine of the side that featured against Dublin in either the Leinster semi-final or replay would proceed to make appearances for the Wee County seniors, while another is nearing 100 caps for his country.
Of course, it’s well-known that Rob Kearney represented the Reds at U18 level while still playing club football with Cooley Kickhams. A lean, dynamic all-rounder, he partnered Ronan Carroll at centre-field for the drawn encounter with the Dubs at Navan.
Crucially, he missed the replay as the Sky Blues, featuring just the one future All-Ireland winner in Ger Brennan, progressed to a final date with Laois.
As per Paddy Clarke’s records, of the nine to move into the senior ranks, St. Mary’s clubman Carroll would become the most prolific in appearance terms. A regular alongside Paddy Keenan during Eamonn McEneaney’s days in charge, Carroll played 104 times for Louth, with Dundalk Gaels’ Derek Crilly, who featured in Kearney’s place for the replay, second on the list with 98 line-outs.
Louth minors, 2003. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
In fact, four of the nine started the Leinster final against Meath seven years later. Neil Gallagher (Cooley Kickhams), John O’Brien (Sean O’Mahony’s), Mick Fanning (Naomh Máirtín) and Shane Lennon (Kilkerley Emmets), who would make 68, 91, 54 and 96 appearances for the seniors respectively, worked under Peter Fitzpatrick as Louth ended 50 years of waiting on a provincial showpiece place.
The three which are yet to be mentioned, Hugh McGinn of Newtown Blues and Glyde Rangers’ Trevor O’Brien and Conor Sheridan, would play 11, 25 and eight times for Louth. However, while Sheridan has the least numerous matches in the red jersey, he did make his bow under Val Andrews, who managed the seniors in 2004 and ‘05.
FACING THE DUBS
The first meeting finished 1-8 to 0-11, with O’Brien netting what looked like a match-winning major in the second half.
According to The Democrat: “Louth went into the game as firm underdogs but a determined, passionate and skilful display saw them push Dublin all the way and, in the end, they can be considered unfortunate not to have made it through to a first Leinster final since 1971.
“Although an equalising point two minutes into injury time may have denied Paddy Oliver’s side, Dublin too will be a little disappointed after an impressive final quarter blitz didn’t see them complete the job at the first time of asking.
“Their failure to do so was down to the sheer grit of Louth who, spurred on by a large and vocal support, dug deep to stem the tide in the closing stages despite their tiring limbs.
“It was thrilling stuff, particularly in the second half, as two fully-committed sides battled it out in a well-contested game and if that level of entertainment can be matched in tonight’s (Wednesday) replay at Navan, supporters will be getting value for money.
“Unfancied at the start of the year, this group of young players looked set to put the smile back on the faces of Louth supporters with a long awaited appearance in a final.”
That last line strikes a chord as it’s reminiscent of the views on Wayne Kierans’ minor team of 2017, who actually made the step and reached the Leinster final. If his group can be as productive to the senior panel then the county’s current situation may become less bleak.
Louth: Neil Gallagher; Seán Gilsenan, Pádraig Lynch, Aidan Murphy; Andrew Tinley, Conor Sheridan, Hugh McGinn; Robert Kearney, Ronan Carroll; John O’Brien (0-1), Michael Fanning, David Boylan; Trevor O’Brien (1-2), Shane Lennon (0-5, four frees), Mark McCormack
Subs: Seán Fee for McCormack (32), Gavin Sullivan for Fanning (52), Emmet Duffy for Boylan (60)
Louth captain Shane Lennon with his Dublin counterpart and the match referee. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
“Louth’s dreams of Leinster Minor Championship glory came to a brave but disappointing end as Dublin proved too strong at Páirc Tailteann on Wednesday.
“The semi-final replay saw the Wee County put up another committed display, but on this occasion it wasn’t sufficient to match the strength, pace and, most crucially, finishing power of a Dublin side which was mighty relieved to come through with five points to spare.
“As a result, hopes of a first provincial final appearance since 1971 were dashed as it is Dublin who will take their place in the decider against Laois at Croke Park on Sunday.
“However, despite the disappointment of missing out, Paddy Oliver’s players can hold their heads high and take some consolation from the fact that they not only did themselves proud, but also gave the county a much-needed lift.
“The team went into the Leinster Championship knowing that no Louth side had won a match in the knockout stages in ten years. However, the efforts and performances over the past seven games make that statistic seem a very distant memory.”
Dublin, who ran out 1-12 to 1-7 winners, made some changes to their team for the replay, one of which saw the introduction of Danny O’Reilly into their forward line. His mother, well-known singer Mary Black, watched from the stand.
Louth: Neil Gallagher; Seán Gilsenan, Pádraig Lynch, Aidan Murphy; Andrew Tinley, Conor Sheridan, John O’Brien; Ronan Carroll, Michael Fanning; Derek Crilly, Hugh McGinn, David Boylan (0-1); Trevor O’Brien (1-1), Shane Lennon (0-5, one free), Mark McCormack
Subs: Emmet Duffy for McCormack (HT), Darragh Greene for Crilly (38), Ray McCabe for John O’Brien (44), Gavin Sullivan for Boylan (58), Seán Fee for Duffy (60)
“The Dublin match was Oliver’s final game in charge after two years at the helm. This was his first defeat since his opening game when his side lost comprehensively to Longford, who went on to claim the Leinster Championship.”
Oliver would subsequently take over as County Board chairman, filling the role for five years.