Louth goalscorer Seaghan Conneely and Kevin Gilmartin of Sligo during Saturday's Nicky Rackard Cup match at St. Brigid's Park, Dowdallshill. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Nicky Rackard Cup
Louth 1-19 Sligo 2-24
Louth’s Nicky Rackard Cup campaign got off to a disastrous start in Dowdallshill on Saturday afternoon as they fell to Lory Meagher holders Sligo by eight points.
The performance was admirable, given that only six of the starting XV hurled for the Reds in last year’s championship, but the outcome leaves their title hopes in tatters with two testing trips to come, against Mayo and Tyrone, in successive weeks.
Indeed, even at this early juncture, Louth, as they were 12 months ago, look likely to be involved in a relegation scrap against the other group’s basement quarter.
Manager Paul McCormack admitted afterwards that his team face an uphill struggle to make positive headway in the preliminaries, considering both of their upcoming opponents will have eyes firmly fixed on reaching the Croke Park final, never mind merely progressing to the last four.
HT - Louth 1-13 Sligo 1-13. pic.twitter.com/qNzDbbt8oX— Caoimhín Reilly (@CaoimhinReilly) May 11, 2019
Yet he had nothing but positive things to say about his side, who actually led at one point during the second half, having found themselves five in arrears shortly before the break. They lacked nothing in battling qualities throughout, but, ultimately were shy of the necessary presence in the attacking third, despite Naomh Moninne teenager Darren Geoghegan pointing 12 times on his championship debut.
In truth, the difference was Sligo veteran Keith Raymond, who provided leadership in significant doses at various stages. The full-forward, a Rackard victor with the Yeats County 11 years ago, when they pipped Louth at HQ, finished the game with 2-5, 1-5 of which came from play.
As Louth chased the game, he oozed class to swipe them out of grasp, twice extending the gap to six points within single-digit seconds of Geoghegan adding to the Wee County’s total. This type of morale-sapping blow was recurrently suffered by the Reds, with a comeback never seeming likely as a consequence. Sligo just always seemed to have that bit in reserve.
“We got a point and they’d answer it with a point,” McCormack said, mid-sigh, clearly disappointed.
“We didn’t seem to get that two points in a row or another goal.
“Goals give you belief and we targetted two goals in the game, but we only hit one. We targetted 20 points. 2-20 would win a lot of matches.
“Sligo were the best team on the day; they deserved to win the match, but we fought tremendously hard to get back into the game.
“It’s a young, developing team who’ve trained really well and their application is really good. It’s just a slow process for us.”
Setting and teams from Dowdallshill - Louth vs Sligo, Nicky Rackard Cup. pic.twitter.com/sH3mfvlTdU— Caoimhín Reilly (@CaoimhinReilly) May 11, 2019
Even from the warm-up, it was visible that Sligo were superior in both conditioning and sharpness, and they began at a ferocious tempo, with four of the opening seven points before Raymond found the net, following great play by Kevin Banks, on eight minutes.
Prior to that, Louth ’keeper Donal Connolly had to make the first two of three fabulous point-blank saves, as the Reds clung in contention.
Seaghan Conneely’s goal at the other end, 19 minutes in, cut the deficit to two, which was harsh given Sligo’s firm control on the affair, but the St. Fechin’s man later stung the crossbar during Louth’s best spell of the match, shortly before half-time, when they battled back from 1-13 to 1-8 behind to level at the turnaround.
Geoghegan’s accurate placed balls were pivotal, but the youngster’s strike rate wasn’t as prolific during the second period as Louth largely chased the game, having taken the lead through the No.13 for the first and only time on 39 minutes.
The decisive register was Raymond’s second three-pointer, from penalty range, 10 minutes later as Sligo only once relinquished the five-point cushion the conversion provided from there to the finish.
An eight-point reverse is a brutal introduction to this level of hurling for so many of Louth’s newcomers.
Louth: Donal Connolly; Stephen Hoey, Andrew McCrave, Andrew Smyth; Stephen Kettle, Conor Deane, Jamie McDonnell (0-1); David Kettle (0-3), Gerard Smyth; Pádraig Fallon, James Costelloe (0-1), Feidhelm Joyce (0-1); Darren Geoghegan (0-12, eight frees & 65), Seaghan Conneely (1-0), Gerard McKeown (0-1)
Subs: Mark Wallace for Gerard Smyth (15), David Stephenson for David Kettle (45)
Sligo: Mark Burke; Niall MacDermott, Niall Feehily, James Weir; Kevin Banks (0-2), Ronan Cox, Liam Reidy; Rory McHugh, Gerard O’Kelly Lynch (0-2, one free & 65); Gary Cadden (0-4), Tony O’Kelly Lynch (0-3, two frees), Joe Starr; Shane Crowley (0-4, one free), Keith Raymond (2-5, 1-0 penalty), Kevin O’Kennedy (0-2)
Subs: Kevin Gilmartin for Crowley (40), Mikey Gordon for MacDermott (42), Andrew Kilcullen (0-1) for O’Kennedy (50), Connor Griffin (0-1) for Reidy (60), Brian Shannon for Cadden (66)
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin)