What a difference two years makes as rampant Reds seal return to Division Two
Allianz National Hurling League Division Three:
Tipperary 0-12 0-16 Louth
By Caoimhín Reilly
“What a difference two years makes,” said a jubilant Pádraig Rath walking off the hallowed turf of Thurles this afternoon. Louth are back in Division Two.
It’s impossible to argue with the thoughts of the Dreadnots man as in 20 months Colin Kelly has managed to take the Reds from a demotion to the bottom tier and an embarrassing championship exit at Semple Stadium to Division Two status and another trip to Croke Park.
And if you were looking for an example of how much this team have grown; look no further than the second-half of today’s four-point victory over Tipperary.
Trailing 0-8 to 0-6 at half-time, the Reds launched arguably their finest half of football under Kelly with the scoreline hardly doing justice to their stirring exploits after the break.
The introduction of Gerard McSorley, the outstanding individual performances of Eoin O’Connor and James Stewart along with whole-hearted defending of Rath and John Bingham in curtailing the Premier County to two second half points from play were key.
Although, the manner of the comeback was more to do with the team’s irrepressible belief and work ethic rather than individuality. It was about emotion and desire rather than core ability.
While lady luck also shone down on the Wee County with Conor Sweeney’s penalty miss in the last play of the first-half ensuring that Louth had only a hill, rather than a mountain, to climb after the restart.
However, back to Rath’s original point, the most satisfactory element is that Louth were finally able to banish the nightmare of July 2015 where they suffered a 23-point drubbing to the same opposition at the same venue.
The revenge mission was ultimately successful, but prior to throw-in a patched-up Louth team were viewed as a sitting duck for Liam Kearns’ table toppers.
With Ryan Burns absent with a stomach bug, Jim McEneaney still not deemed fit enough for action, Anthony Williams suspended and Liam Dullaghan unavailable, a win looked a tall order especially following last week’s demoralising defeat to Armagh.
Louth looked mentally and physically frail last Sunday and having made a slow start this afternoon, which saw them trail three-points to one after six minutes, you were left to wonder if history was going to repeat itself.
Sam Mulroy, deputising for Burns, got Louth off the mark by pointing superbly from distance to cancel out Sweeney’s opener.
Josh Keane and Michael Quinlivan brought the home side’s tally to three before good moves resulted in Derek Maguire and Declan Byrne drawing Louth level, despite the hosts having the better of the play.
Being a physically more imposing team, Tipp could run through the Louth defence in numbers as the visitor’s foul tally reached 13 by the end of the opening-half.
Indeed, it only looked a matter of time before the Premier County would score a goal with ex-minor star Jack Kennedy pointing despite a goal being on before Brian Fox’s low effort was saved by Craig Lynch.
Much of the pressure was self-imposed though as the Reds persisted in giving possession away cheaply, and the burden only intensified when Patrick Reilly was black-carded for fouling Kevin O’Halloran as the Portroe man prepared to pull the trigger at goal.
Eoin O’Connor (2) and Tommy Durnin pointed exquisitely from distance prior to half-time to keep Louth in touch, but at no stage did they ever threaten to go ahead with their forward play leaving a lot to be desired.
The game’s turning point was arguably Sweeney’s missed penalty. After Quinlivan was upended by Rath when barging towards goal, Sweeney saw his spot-kick rebound off the upright. And despite Phillip Austin salvaging a point, Tipp were only two ahead at the change of ends having dominated.
It was a different Louth that emerged from the dressing room and Stewart showed their intent straight from the throw-in as he burned past opposition defenders before stinging the palms of Evan Comerford – who deflected the effort over the bar.
Their dominance continued but with attacks constantly breaking down at decisive moments; Tipp were afforded respite through Sweeney and Kevin Fahey points which reinstated their half-time advantage.
However, a baron spell between the 46th and 59th minutes gave Louth the initiative with two excellent points from Eoin O’Connor, who was everywhere in the second-half, leveling affairs before Derek Maguire’s superb sliced effort gave the Reds the lead for the first time with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.
It was one way traffic with the roles reversed with Sweeney and co being snuffed out as the Louth faithful sensed a famous win.
John Bingham put Louth two clear with his second point of the league campaign before Byrne was black-carded for a rotten tap-tackle on Liam Casey as he rampaged through the middle of the Louth defence.
Darren McMahon was then wrongfully allowed to replace the Mochtas man with Byrne’s having been booked in the first-half.
However, referee Padraig O’Sullivan’s error wasn’t highlighted as Sweeney grabbed two of the next three points to cut the gap to the minimum with six-minutes to play.
Tipp’s hopes were effectively ended when 2016 All-Star Quinlivan was also black-carded for hacking down Páraic Smith after the centre-forward had fielded McSorley’s wonderful ball over the top.
O’Connor got his fifth point of proceedings from the resultant free before further points through McSorley and Conal McKeever sealed the victory.
The second tier now awaits Louth after a three-year absence, although the promotion party will have to be put on ice with Sligo to be played in Drogheda next Sunday before a league final the following weekend.
Tipperary: Evan Comerford; Willie Connors, Paddy Codd, Alan Campbell; Jimmy Feehan, Alan Campbell, Robbie Kiely; Liam Casey, Jack Kennedy (0-1); Josh Keane (0-1, free), Kevin O’Halloran (0-1, free), Brian Fox; Conor Sweeney (0-5, three frees), Michael Quinlivan (0-2, one free), Liam McGrath
Subs: Liam Boland for Fox (9, temporary change), Fox for Boland (17), Phillip Austin for Keane (20), Kevin Fahey for Maher (HT), Boland for O’Halloran (59), Shane O’Connell for Quinlivan (66, black card)
Booked: Casey (69), Sweeney (72)
Black Card: Quinlivan (65)
Red Card: None
Louth: Craig Lynch; Pádraig Rath, Patrick Reilly, John Bingham (0-1); Derek Maguire (0-2), Kurt Murphy, James Stewart (0-1); Tommy Durnin (0-1), Andy McDonnell (0-1); Declan Byrne (0-1), Páraic Smith (0-1), Bevan Duffy; Adrian Reid, Eoin O’Connor (0-5, one free), Sam Mulroy (0-1)
Subs: Kevin Carr for Reilly (26, black card), Gerard McSorley (0-1) for Mulroy (41), Darren McMahon for Byrne (59), Rúairí Moore for Durnin (64), Conal McKeever (0-1) for Reid (73), Derek Crilly for O’Connor (75)
Booked: Byrne (30), Maguire (32), Durnin (49), O’Connor (52),
Black Card: Reilly (25), Byrne (58)
Red Card: None
Referee: Pádraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)
Man of the Match: Gerard McSorley (Louth) – Superb second-half performance. A complete livewire and had a hand in several crucial scores, his own point included.