NFL: Louth ‘trim’ Saffrons’ wings as promotion soar remains on course
Allianz National Football League:
Louth 2-10 1-11 Antrim
By Caoimhín Reilly
The ballot boxes may have closed in Ulster, but after the fourth count of results in Division Three Louth are still topping the poles and a win over Armagh in a fortnight would see them pass the promotion post with the required quota in hand.
Today’s two-point victory over Antrim was far from vintage, despite Louth leading from start-to-finish the win was more to do with grinding it out than the sort of free-flowing attack that the Reds have been accustomed to producing in recent games.
As Bevan Duffy pointed out to Talk of the Town afterwards: “I’d say it was a tough watch,” in reference to his team’s first-half performance.
Louth took an advantage to the interval, 1-3 to 1-1. Sometimes score lines do not reflect the patterns of a match but in this case, it told the narrative accurately. It was error-ridden and erratic with little action of note for the brave onlookers to enjoy.
Pass left, pass right or win a free appeared to be the mantra of the teams with only Bevan Duffy, Páraic Smith and Tommy Durnin threatening to move forward for the league leaders, likewise for Conor Murray and Kevin Niblock of Antrim. The rest just slogged it out.
However, anybody who thought that the lowly flying Saffrons were going to be a pushover for Colin Kelly’s men sensed from early on that this wasn’t going to be the case. In fact, had the visitors taken their chances in the first-half, with their four wides and an incredible seven shots dropping short, they could have been ahead at the change of ends.
As it was, though, the Reds held the advantage mainly due to Eoin O’Connor’s 11th minute goal which the impressive full-forward tapped home at the end of a rare flowing move involving Anthony Williams, Ryan Burns and Smith.
That goal had added to Durnin’s fine point a minute earlier and forced Louth into a 1-1 to no-score advantage, at which point you expected an onslaught from the Reds.
Antrim, to their credit, never lay down and showed a spirit that defied both their league positioning and relegation favourites tag, and a goal from Ryan Murray a quarter-of-an-hour in pulled them back into contention. The centre-forward saw his deflected right-footed drive pass a static Craig Lynch in the Louth goal.
Lynch was the culprit from a Louth point-of-view, though, seeing as it was his dreadful kick-out, which petered along the ground and barely crossed the ’21, which handed Kevin Niblock, the assister, primary possession to create the opportunity which saw the Reds concede the first goal of their league campaign.
Niblock was a doubt coming into the game with a knee complaint but he showed no ill-effects as he and CJ McGourty, who raised Antrim’s solitary white flag in the opening half, led the Antrim attack, often in isolation.
Much of those seven goal-shy efforts were directed at the St. Galls man at full-forward. On the occasions that he was found by the Antrim outfielders he threatened to pull the Louth defence apart and he was integral during a first-half spell where the Saffrons looked liable to fill the home side’s net.
Unfortunately for Gearóid Adams and Frank Fitzsimons though, they didn’t as the Reds continued to get scores with more ease, although there was nothing simple about the points from Duffy and Smith coming into half-time, both from acute angles, both from distance and both fine scores.
O’Connor and Burns were excellent for the Wee County in Tullamore last weekend and Antrim were clearly aware of the threat the inside pair posed. Having diligently shackled them for the first 35 minutes, despite O’Connor bagging a goal, the deadly duo came to the fore in the second period, with Burns amassing 1-2.
Niblock registered the first and third points of the second-half from play, and looked likely to run riot in the process, either side of the moment of the match which saw O’Connor hold off Patrick Gallagher with his right-hand, catch with the other, swivel and point left-footed from 14-yards all in one instance.
It was a rare instant of genius as the former Sigerson Cup winner with DCU fetched Smith’s long punt. It seemed to spark Louth and had Williams had more conviction when cutting through from the left wing on goal Kelly’s charges could have moved clear, but he hesitated and placed his goal effort where Antrim’s Chris Kerr could reach with his foot to save.
Burns converted the resultant ’45 for his first score of the day before a scoring glut, so out of place in a game of limited attacking intent, arrived with McGourty scoring a sublime free off the outside of his left-foot, Rúairí Moore getting his first score since the opening round of the league and another Antrim notch by Paddy McBride from the right-flank.
The Hunterstown man then converted another free, following an extraordinary run by Duffy which saw him make four Antrim defenders look insipid, before Burns won and scored a 52nd minute penalty with Saffrons’ substitute Pat Branagan having pulled him to the ground.
It left five between the teams, 2-7 to 1-5, although the gap was cut to four when McGourty and livewire Conor Murray sandwiched another excellent turn, shot and point from O’Connor, who is making it very hard to consider dropping him when Jim McEneaney returns from injury.
However, in that period, around the hour-mark, Antrim also missed two glorious opportunities to tighten matters further as McGourty and Niblock hit poor wides, their sixth and seventh of proceedings.
That gave the Louth defence a reprieve and despite additional points from the Ulstermen from McGourty (2), Rúairí Scott and Jack Dowling, John Bingham and Declan Byrne got the scores which proved to be telling as the Reds successfully withstood Antrim’s late surge.
And so, Adams saw his side lose in the constituency held by his father but, with three games to go, it remains to be seen if Kelly and Louth will hold their seats in the promotion places as the race to elect the Division Three finalists reaches its climax
Louth: Craig Lynch; Pádraig Rath ©, Patrick Reilly, John Bingham (0-1); Derek Maguire, Liam Dullaghan, Anthony Williams; Tommy Durnin (0-1), Declan Byrne (0-1); James Stewart, Páraic Smith (0-1), Bevan Duffy (0-1); Rúairí Moore (0-1), Eoin O’Connor (1-2), Ryan Burns (1-2, pen goal, one free, one ’45)
Subs: Adrian Reid for Smith (66), James Califf for Byrne (72)
Yellow Card: Burns (53), Bingham (62), Reid (69)
Antrim: Chris Kerr ©; Conor Hamill, Patrick Gallagher, Paddy McAleer; Paddy McBride (0-1), Declan Lynch, Peter Healy; Jack Dowling (0-1), Stephen Beatty; Conor Small, Ryan Murray (1-0), Conor Murray (0-1); CJ McGourty (0-5, three frees), Kevin Niblock (0-2), Matthew Fitzpatrick
Subs: Pat Branagan for Hamill (6); Sean Donnelly for Ryan Murray (15), Donal Nugent for Small (50), Jack Hannigan for Healy (65), Rúairí Scott (0-1) for Fitzpatrick (66), Óisín Hamill for McAleer (73)
Yellow Card: Scott (70)
Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)
Man of the Match: Bevan Duffy (Louth): Stood out like a sore thumb at times, although Eoin O’Connor (Louth) and Kevin Niblock (Antrim) enjoyed fine outings too. Duffy struck an excellent point from the left-wing in the first-half and broke through challenges at will on countless occasions before putting his kick-passing abilities on show. Fielded well, typically got stuck in, passed with composure while his work rate was considerable, as good a performance as he has had for his county.