James Califf is expected to line-out alongside Tommy Durnin in Louth's midfield for Sunday's Leinster SFC clash with Wexford. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
What would constitute a successful championship for Louth?
It is, of course, acknowledged that Wee County supporters are unlikely to see Bevan Duffy climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand in July, or even have the honour of leading his team-mates out on Leinster final day, but is it that Louth’s hopes are capped at reaching the provincial quarter- finals?
Needless to say, with Dublin - winners of all bar one Leinster title since 2005 - awaiting the victor of Sunday’s clash against Wexford, in the second round, should Louth prevail, their domestic march would almost certainly be halted at the last eight.
Not since reaching the Leinster final in 2010 have the Reds breached the quarter-final hurdle, while there have been preliminary round exits in two of the past four seasons.
For a county with Louth’s tradition and playing pool, there is no doubt that results should be better in this regard, but in the present term, it must be expected that Wayne Kierans’ side will at least bounce over the first hurdle.
It would be an unmitigated disaster if they didn’t, as much of the spring promise would likely drain itself at a rapid pace, and deflation certainly isn’t a variable you want to be bringing into a qualifier campaign.
However, there is a sense that defeat hasn’t even been contemplated locally, confidence and optimism having been restored by a better-than-expected Nati- onal League effort. On the other hand, Wexford lost more than they did otherwise in ending their Division Four campaign in the bottom half.
Louth’s 2018 championship was a write-off, heavy losses to minnows in Carlow and Leitrim having been filed in the county’s most embarrassing defeats cabinet. Yet it could be argued that the Slaneysiders endured an even more miserable run; a Leinster loss to Laois being followed by a Wexford Park reverse to Waterford.
Colin Kelly has been recruited by Wexford boss Paul McLoughlin ahead of the championship. At the time of his appointment, he told The Democrat that he would be there in a mainly forwards’ coach capacity.
But, based on their league performances, it’s defensive tutoring that they required most. No team in the league’s bottom tier conceded more than the Yellowbellies, their aggregate concession of goals and points accumulating to a staggering 120 - the next highest being Waterford, on 98.
Marry this leaky tendency with Louth’s ferocious scoring power, which has been enhanced by the return to fitness of Conor Grimes, Ryan Burns and William Woods, and it seems as though the Reds will emerge comfortable winners.
Ultimately, the emphasis will fall upon Kierans to choose his best offensive unit, although the team has a fairly settled look about it from the league. It would be a major surprise if Fergal Sheekey isn’t the goalman, with defenders Fergal Donohoe, Emmet Carolan, James Craven, Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy and John Clutterbuck in front of him, in that precise order.
The ever-reliable Tommy Durnin is expected to line-out alongside James Califf at centre-field, while Ciarán Downey is a practical certainty in the half-forward line, with Andy McDonnell and Sam Mulroy set for jerseys 13 and 14.
Jim McEneaney has been flying it on the club scene through April, but Derek Maguire and Conor Branigan will also be pushing for inclusion, as will Grimes and Declan Byrne in the inside line.
In what is sure to be the most difficult selection process he’s faced since assuming control, Kierans will know the importance of choosing the right players, because Kelly knows what he faces better than any opponent the O’Connell’s man has encountered so far.
But the game is about players and Louth, on paper, have far more quality in this regard.
The Reds, by three, though it will be a struggle.
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