Happy New Year as new look Louth down Mourne County

LOUTH fans are hoping that the McGeough Cup is not the last piece of silverware that Paddy Keenan lifts in 2011.

LOUTH fans are hoping that the McGeough Cup is not the last piece of silverware that Paddy Keenan lifts in 2011.

LOUTH 0-16

DOWN 0-11

In an encouraging start to the 2011 season, Louth lifted the trophy after defeating beaten All-Ireland finalists Down at Haggardstown.

In a competitive and spirited Challenge Match, Louth started the road to recovery after their sombre end to 2010.

As most spectators washed away the hangover of New Year's Eve, Peter Fitzpatrick's men looked to end what must have felt like a five-month hangover which lasted since the incident on July 11.

Thankfully, on this display, Louth's footballers are looking forward once again. What happened last year is in the past, where it belongs and now.

Louth know they have to push on this year and lift the Delaney Cup, if they are to banish the hurt of 2010.

New faces

For Peter Fitzpatrick, he started his rebuilding process as John O'Brien has left these shores for Australia. He will be joined soon by Mick Fanning and Brian White.

New faces were guaranteed and on Sunday, a mixture of familiar and new faces pulled on the Louth shirt.

Jimmy Murray, from Newtown Blues was handed a start, alongside Cooley Kickhams' Brian Donnelly and Alan Kirk from St Mary's. Padraig Rath made his return to the Louth side. He had not featured since breaking his ankle in Louth's National League game against Cavan in March, 2010.

Later in the game, Sean Connor, Jamie Carr and Gerard Hoey made appearances as Louth put Down to the sword after a slow start to the game.

The Mourne Men raced into an early 0-3 to no score lead as Mark Poland opened the scoring with a well-taken score out on the right hand side after four minutes. A slick passing move cut open Louth's defence a minute later as Benny Coulter and James Colgan combined to create space for Joe Ireland, who took his score. Poland tagged another score before Louth were sprung into action by their talisman and recipient of Louth's first GAA All-Star award, Paddy Keenan.

Looking like a man who does not suffer from fatigue, Keenan received the ball from a quick free and neatly slotted the ball between the posts.

Ireland retaliated for Down, before Keenan's midfield partner Ronan Carroll exerted his point taking abilities. The St Mary's man, who was a clear favourite for man-of-the-match burst through the Down defence after good work from his teammate Alan Kirk to tag a score.

Carroll's return

Carroll, who was perhaps Louth's unluckiest player last year, looked back to his best after a nightmare 2010. Plagued with injuries, Carroll's withdrawal in a Challenge Match with Dublin in late February was the start of things to come for the St Mary's man.

He eventually made his return as a second half substitute in the qualifying match against the Blues in July, but by then, Carroll had missed months of action, watching as a frustrated spectator.

Having missed out then, Carroll was a shining light for Louth on the day as his all-action display was a joy to watch. He was involved minutes later as he set up Shane Lennon for a point, just seconds after Benny Coulter made the wrong choice in front of goal, taking his point instead of a goal.

Ray Finnegan advanced to Down's 40m line and sent over a superlative drive that cut the Ulster side's lead down to a point. From there, Louth's new look forward line all started to gel as they fired the Wee County into a half time lead, 0-6 to 0-6.

Derek Maguire cut in from the left to send a looping effort over the bar. Brian Donnelly followed as he sidestepped his marker to fire over before Lennon finished the half with a converted free.

Changes were made at half time as Sean Connor went between the sticks and Gerard Hoey from the Geraldines, the host club of the match venue, was deployed in defence, alongside Jame Carr from St Slyvesters. Liam Shevlin replaced Jimmy Murray, but Murray got a second bite at the cherry as he returned to the field in place of Brian Donnelly.

As he did, Murray adjusted to the pace of the game and fired over his first point of the day before Down hit three unanswered points through Marty Clarke, Michael McGee and Ronan Murtagh.

The latter, who came on as a second half sub showed his quality as he twisted the Louth defence on various occasions. For his first score, Murtagh had the goal at his mercy, but Louth were thankful that he was a little bit rusty as he blazed his shot over the bar.

Wrapping it up

Murray and Murtagh traded scores again before Louth really got a stranglehold on the game. Led by Keenan and Carroll, they created the space for Louth's attacking line, who punished Down when they found space.

Lennon thumped over another free before Carroll drilled the ball between the posts with great precision to put Louth into a 0-13 to 0-10 lead.

Andy McDonnell showed his crafty footwork on 60mins as he skipped his way towards goal, neatly putting the ball between the posts. Murtagh pulled one back for Down, but it was not enough to keep them within touching distance. Lennon wrapped up proceedings with two further scores from frees.

Keenan lifted another piece of silverware, a collective piece, rather than an individual award which he has many of lately. A win over a team that was beaten in the All-Ireland final is as good a start to the year as you could have hoped for.

The Mourne County had seven of that team playing on the day in Haggardstown. Louth also had seven starters from the Leinster Final team on show, with more to come back in, such as Colm Judge, JP Rooney, Eamonn McAuley, Adrian Reid and Mark Brennan.

The new faces showed signs that they will take time to adapt to inter-county football, something Fitzpatrick will use challenge matches and the O'Byrne Cup to determine their fates, but so far, the signs are good for Louth football this year. Let's hope it continues that way.

Scorers: LOUTH: Shane Lennon, (0-5, 5f), Ronan Carroll, (0-3), Paddy Keenan, Jimmy Murray, both (0-2), Ray Finnegan, Derek Maguire, Brian Donnelly, Andy McDonnell, all (0-1).

DOWN: Ronan Murtagh, Joe Ireland, both (0-3), Mark Poland, (0-2), Brendan Coulter, Martin Clarke, Michael McGee, all (0-1).

LOUTH: Neil Gallagher; Padraig Rath, Aaron Hoey, Ronan Greene; Ray Finnegan, Dessie Finnegan, Stephen Fitzpatrick; Paddy Keenan, Ronan Carroll; Derek Maguire, Shane Lennon, Jimmy Murray; Andy McDonnell, Brian Donnelly; Alan Kirk.

Subs: Gerard Hoey for P Rath, (35mins), Sean Connor for N Gallagher, (35mins), Jamie Carr for Ronan Greene, (35mins), Liam Shevlin for J Murray, (35mins).

Down: Gavin Joyce; Eoin Costello, Gary McArdle, Colm Murray; James Colgan, Kevin McKernan, Michael McCartain; Declan Sheeran, Peter Fitzpatrick; Martin Clarke, Aidan Carr, Brendan Coulter; John Clarke, Joe Ireland, Mark Poland.

Subs used: Cathal Murdock, Kevin Anderson, Liam Doyle, Michael McGee, Ronan Murtagh, Conor Poland, Patrick Downey, Paul Devlin.

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).