NFL Division Three: Louth edge tussle centred around the man in the middle
National Football League Division Three:
Louth 0-11 0-10 Longford
By Caoimhín Reilly, in the Gaelic Grounds.
The small turnout at the Gaelic Grounds this afternoon witnessed a thrilling finale, but little else apart from further evidence of why timekeeping should be relieved from the referee’s list of duties.
In truth, the course of the game was dictated by the Monaghan man in the middle, Niall McKenna, as Louth continued their one-hundred percent start to the new league season with a single point victory over Longford in Drogheda.
It would be unfair to label McKenna bias in any way, shape or form, but his decision making at times left both the patrons and players incensed, especially on the full-time whistle when, following Craig Lynch’s fluffed effort from a ’45, he called a halt to proceedings despite more than 50-seconds of the allotted four additional minutes still to be played, and with the visitors in possession.
It was one of several highly debatable decisions from the Ulster whistler. His allowance for play to go on beyond the three minutes of first-half stoppage time, which allowed Robbie Smyth to eat into the Louth lead further, Bevan Duffy’s black card award and the double-whammy of waving away Ronan Holdcroft’s clear-cut penalty claim at one end before offering Longford the chance to put the minimum between the sides at the other all contributed towards the less than savoury scenes which unfolded at the end, as the Longford players surrounded the referee as he attempted to leave the field.
The visitors must be honest with themselves though, had they brought the intensity of their finish to the early stages of the game then they would certainly have left the east-coast with the points, and be top of the Division Three table themselves heading into the midterm break.
Instead, they insisted on hand-passing laterally and sauntering about the field, lacking the required urgency, with nobody willing to even take a glance at the posts.
Granted that they were facing a stiff breeze, Longford’s shot-count in the first-half (six) was less than the total amount converted by Louth (seven) at the same stage which illustrates their nonsensical approach to the first 35-minutes.
It took them a quarter-of-an-hour to register a score, through Smyth, by which stage Ryan Burns (3) and Páraic Smith had Louth in a commanding position. It could even have been worse for Denis Connerton’s men had Kevin Carr’s stroke-shot went in off the butt of the post rather than ricocheting back into play.
Smyth followed with a further two-frees before the break although Louth led by four-points at the change of ends, this having played the better football and kicking some fabulous scores with Derek Maguire’s mazy run and point just prior to the interval being the highlight.
Indeed, it looked as if the Reds were going to pull-away further with Colin Kelly’s half-time chat still ringing in their ears. Tommy Durnin, Jim McEneaney and Andy McDonnell all pointed from play over a ten-minute spell to give Louth a ‘double-scores’ advantage, 0-10 to 0-5, approaching the 15th minute of the second-half.
It was a deficit that Longford didn’t look like clawing back after John Keegan was black-carded but to their credit the midlanders dug deep and produced a fightback on behalf of excellent long-range points from substitute Brian Farrell and Pádraig McCormack, while Smyth remained unerring from dead-balls.
It was turning into a dog-fight around the middle and much of the Longford pressure was resultant from Lynch’s waning accuracy off the tee under pressure. Although Bevan Duffy’s black-card for an off the ball incident was partly to blame for this with the Fechins’ man having enjoyed another notable outing in gathering primary possession for his side.
In general, the Reds began to lose their shape and all-round defensive solidity. They became panic-stricken, and seemed to completely lose their composure in possession, with Anthony Williams at one stage kicking the ball across his own goal and over the far side line. Thus, attracting an onslaught.
Longford continued to close the gap through Smyth before Séan McCormack brought them to within a point of parity from a free, which stemmed from Holdcroft being bundled over inside the 14-yard-line at the opposite end.
The atmosphere built with four additional minutes having been signalled, and with tempers fraying the teams began to hurdle themselves into collisions. And following a prolonged spell of rucks Declan Byrne forced a ’45 which Lynch was called-up to take.
He shanked the effort into the wind, Longford got possession but only reached their own ’21 before the match was ended by McKenna, unceremoniously in the eyes of the visitors who passionately remonstrated their point.
That was to be their only point though as Louth skipped to the top of the Division Three table thanks to the victory, and with Offaly and Antrim to come after the two-week lay-off the Reds look certain to be involved in the promotion push.
Louth: Craig Lynch; Pádraig Rath, Patrick Reilly, Kevin Carr; Derek Maguire (0-1), Liam Dullaghan, Anthony Williams; Tommy Durnin (0-1), Andy McDonnell (0-1); James Stewart, Páraic Smith (0-1), Bevan Duffy (0-1); Ruairí Moore, Jim McEneaney (0-1), Ryan Burns (0-5, four frees)
Subs: Declan Byrne (0-1) for Moore (HT), Conal McKeever for Duffy (50, black card) Ronan Holdcroft for McEneaney (60), Eoin O’Connor for McDonnell (64)
Yellow Card: Durnin (25), Dullaghan (31), Rath (38), Williams (51)
Black Card: Duffy (50)
Longford: Paddy Collum; Paul McGee, Barry Gilleran, Dermot Brady; Donal McElligott, Pádraig McCormack (0-1), Cian Farrelly; Barry O’Farrell, John Keegan; Darren Gallagher, James McGivney, Barry McKeon; Robbie Smyth (0-7, six frees), Liam Connerton, Sean McCormack (0-1, free)
Subs: Daniel Mimnagh for McGee (24), Brian Farrell (0-1) for Keegan (40, black card), Dessie Reynolds for McKeon (54), Michael Quinn for McGivney (55), David McGivney for Gallagher (63), Larry Moran for Farrelly (67)
Black Card: John Keegan (39)
Referee: Niall McKenna (Monaghan)
Man of the Match: Robbie Smyth (Longford) – Simply because he kept his team in the game. It took Longford 43-minutes to get a score from play today, by which stage Smyth had converted four frees for them. He scored seven-points for the second consecutive game and, as stressed before, only for him they would simply have been out of sight come the climax.