Players are fighting for their places, insists Louth forward Pepe Smith

LOUTH'S game against Athlone IT may have ended as a contest after 30 minutes, but nobody told the players that on Sunday.

LOUTH'S game against Athlone IT may have ended as a contest after 30 minutes, but nobody told the players that on Sunday.

For 70 minutes, Louth's players gave an impressive display - despite not having to step out of first gear - as they put the students to the sword in the first round of the O'Byrne Cup.

According to Pauric 'Pepe' Smith, the mood in the camp is extremely competitive with players fighting for their places.

With the National League opener creeping up - February 6 against Westmeath - Fitzpatrick will have to select a final panel of 26 for the game, something Smith and his teammates are all too aware of.

Smith scored Louth's first goal on Sunday in Drogheda after just eight minutes on the clock, hitting a sidewinder into the net off the post. He put the ball in the net again in the second half, only to see it ruled out because of 'square ball'.

The Dreadnots player gave a good account of himself on the day, hitting 1-2 and he is desperate to keep his place for the National League opener.

Speaking after the game, Smith admitted that despite the drop in pace of the game in the second half, he and his teammates were still trying their best to impress.

"It can be difficult to keep the head focused as games like that can peter out but with lads fighting for places, everyone wants to get on the scoreboard."

He added: "Everyone wants to be seen to do well. It can be competitive and amongst the players more than anything at the moment. There's a panel of 32 or 33 and everyone wants to be playing.

"It's just that time of year, you have to push for it or you won't be involved."

In the second half, Louth scored 1-10 as they crushed the students in Athlone IT, something Smith again puts down the competitive streak within the Louth squad.

""That comes down to the competitive nature again. Everyone wants to score and play well. That just comes with the territory really."

It may have taken Louth over a quarter of an hour to really get into the game, but Smith knows that by February, the ring rust will be gone and Louth will be ready to make their assault on the National League, which is their top priority.

"A lot of games tend to go like that. It only takes one score to get things going. There was a couple of bad wides at the start, but at this time of the year, you can take for that. It's a tough one, but once we got going, it didn't take us long to take off.

"Athlone probably are not at peak fitness yet. They are probably looking towards Sigerson to hit peak fitness.

"This time of the year, it's about freshening things up, getting the sharpness and making sure people are ready to go for the National League.

"It's all about the first league game against Westmeath and we are all competing for places for that game."

One thing Smith and Louth want to continue is their winning streak as the Athlone IT victory made it 3-0 from their games against Down and Carlow IT.

A winning streak is something that Smith and co think will pay dividends come springtime when they are involved in tight matches.

"If you get a string of wins together, you can find that in the tight games, that really matters. I know myself, if I am in a losing streak, you find it very hard to get a win.

"But if you get a winning streak going, come the end of games, tight games, when there's only a point in it, you can look back and have that bit of belief built up."

Now, Louth have a date set with Wicklow in the next round of the O'Byrne Cup, something Smith says they will be ready for.

"There's probably a lot of counties in the same boat as us. There's a lot of fixtures which probably went under the radar in the last week with a lot of games played. I know the weather up the north may have hampered things for them.

"I think a lot of counties are trying to get things going as quick as possible and then really go for it.

"Wicklow will be in the same situation as ourselves, they will be looking to get things just right. We will get ready for next week and come next Sunday, we will be ready to go again.

"It's good as it's another county team and they will be gearing towards the National League.

"Fitzer set out at the start of the year that getting out of Division Three was the aim so we have to hit the ground running."