Louth's Lauren Boyle in action during yesterday's Lidl National Football League Division Four semi-final in Clones. (Pic: Warren Matthews)
Lidl NFL Division Four
Louth 2-14 Antrim 2-20
Was it overconfidence? Was it naivety? Was it back luck? Or, were Antrim just better?
It’s hard to put Louth’s Lidl NFL Division Four semi-final defeat into words. Table toppers and comfortable conquerors of Antrim during their six-game winning run, they looked winners for the majority of the 60 minutes in Clones, only to blow a four-point lead in injury-time.
Their concession of a goal with the last kick, Cathy Carey’s daisy-cutting effort sent the match to extra-time and from there, there appeared to be only one outcome: a league final place for the Saffrons.
But, when the result seeps in, it’s doubtful if Louth can have any complaints really. Antrim were the more cohesive, better-performing team throughout. They shared the scoring burden, getting all bar one starting forward on the scoresheet, whereas the Reds relied on individual moments of brilliance, which Lauren Boyle regularly provided.
The Cooley star hit five first half points to give her team a 1-7 to 0-8 lead, while playing the telling pass for her clubmate, Niamh Rice, to rifle home the opening goal midway through the opening half.
And then there was a stirring effort from Sinead Woods - her best in a Louth jersey - during a second period which ebbed and flowed, although Darren Bishop’s side looked to have edged it upon Boyle’s wonderful finish to the net, which left the Wee County 2-9 to 0-12 in front.
A brace of Rice points added to the advantage, as Antrim endlessly searched for a way back into the encounter, which hardly looked likely despite Una Pearson having plenty of incoming traffic to contend with.
But fatigue dramatically kicked in towards the finish and Louth’s demise had much to do with this factor. A loose pass - after Antrim had closed the gap to three through Maeve McCurdy - resulted in the Ulster side having the freedom of St. Tiernach’s Park, racing towards goal, and a move that included Mairéad Cooper ended with the outstanding Carey finding the net: 2-11 to 1-14, full-time, with the last kick.
Some of Louth’s outfielders stared at the turf at this point, in spite of their destiny remaining in hand, as their opponents rushed off to prepare for two 10-minute periods of extra-time. And it showed. One outfit was up for the additional periods, while Louth wearily trotted back into position after a short huddle where Bishop attempted to inspire a rally.
Carey (2) and Cooper points had Seán O’Kane’s team ahead by three, before Rice cut Louth’s deficit to 1-17 to 2-12 at the interval, but that proved only a momentary stemming of a relentless Antrim tide, the Saffrons having made smart use of their reserves, Michelle Magee and Ciara Durnien both impacting upon being introduced.
Star midfielder Lara Dahunsi and Carey extended the Antrim gap before Durnien collected a loose ball off the woodwork to slam into the empty net, finishing the contest once and for all.
Eimear Byrne - who never gave in - and Dahunsi traded points, prior to Kate Flood having a major chalked off for square ball, with the dying embers in progress. In truth, the latter summed Louth’s day up: one of great promise, which ultimately ended in agony.
Louth: Una Pearson; Shannen McLaughlin, Éilís Hand, Seoda Matthews; Áine Breen, Michelle McMahon, Ceire Nolan; Rebecca Carr, Eimear Byrne (0-1); Aoife Russell, Susan Byrne, Sinead Woods (0-1); Lauren Boyle (1-5, 0-1 free), Kate Flood (0-3, two free), Niamh Rice (1-4)
Subs: Ciara Woods for Eimear Byrne, Jenni McGuinness for Sinead Woods, Grainne Murray for Hand (ET)
Antrim: Anna McCann; Nicole Killen, Maria Hanna, Orla Ní Chorra; Kayla Farren, Ciara Woods, Saoirse Tennyson (0-1); Aislinn McFarland, Lara Dahunsi (0-4); Caitlin Taggart (0-4, three frees), Cathy Carey (1-7, 0-4 frees), Sarah Louise McLaughlin; Mairead Cooper (0-1), Maeve McCurdy (0-1), Aoife Taggart (0-1)
Subs: Michelle Magee (0-1) for McLaughlin, Ciara Durnien (1-0) for Aoife Taggart, Lucy Wallace for McCurdy
Referee: Declan Callaghan (Donegal)