We’re back in Championship action once again this coming weekend. Our Round 2 All-Ireland SFC group stage match against Louth is set to take place at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park on Sunday, where throw-in is 2pm. Cavan’s Noel Mooney is the ref and the match will be shown live on RTÉ.
We’ve only ever played the Wee County once before in the Championship, on a day when the Sam Maguire was up in the Hogan Stand waiting to be claimed by the winners. That was way back in 1950 and we won that All-Ireland final, our second Sam Maguire success, on a scoreline of 2-5 to 1-6. We did it like this:
It’s not quite as long since our paths last crossed in the National League but it has still been a while. The most recent time we played them was in 1998, when, in a season where League standings were being reorganised, we met them in a Section A game at Drogheda. We won that one by 1-8 to 1-6.
The most recent – in fact, the only – time we played them in Castlebar was in 1994 when we were both in Division Two. They won that one by 1-8 to 1-4. That result yields a fun fact as we head into Sunday: we’ve yet to beat Louth at MacHale Park.
In addition, the most recent time we got the better of them on home soil was as far back as forty years ago. We won that League encounter in 1983 at Crossmolina by 2-3 to 0-8. Prior to that, our only other home win over them was recorded in Ballina back in 1935.
So our home record against them isn’t exactly stellar. Admittedly we’ve only ever played them a grand total of thirteen times, twelve of those in the National League. We won eight of those meetings, lost four and drew one.
So much for ancient history. Of far greater relevance is how Louth are shaping up as they head to Castlebar on Sunday.
While they’ve been out of the League’s top tier for a long time – which would explain the absence of matches between us to date this century – they’re a county whose fortunes have improved in recent years. That upturn in form coincided with Mickey Harte’s arrival as manager at the end of 2020.
In the Covid-shortened League of 2021, Louth were promoted from Division Four to Division Three. In a full Division Three campaign last year, Louth topped the table and then beat Limerick to claim the divisional title.
This spring they showed they weren’t out of place in Division Two either. Indeed, they remained in the hunt for promotion to the top tier until the final round and they finished the campaign in third spot.
In Round 1 back at the end of January they lost by a point to Clare in Ennis. They lost in Round 2 as well, going down by three to Derry at Ardee. In Round 3, however, they got off the mark when they had two points to spare over Limerick at Ardee.
In Round 4 they had an eye-catching three-point win over Meath at Navan and in Round 5 they had another impressive win over Leinster opposition, beating Kildare by five at Ardee. They then underlined their promotion credentials by beating Cork by three in Ardee. That meant a win over Dublin in the final round would have seen them go up at the Jacks’ expense but it wasn’t to be, as Dublin won by seven at Croke Park.
Louth made it to the Leinster final this year, their first Delaney Cup decider appearance since the ill-fated 2010 final, but to do so they only had to beat two Division Three teams and only then not without a fair bit of effort.
In the quarters, they had to overturn an eight-point half-time deficit to beat Westmeath and so qualify for the Leinster semi-final for the first time in 13 years. They won that quarter-final match by 2-10 to 1-11.
In the semi-final they were up against Offaly, who had taken out Meath in the quarters, thus consigning the Royals to the Tailteann Cup. That provincial semi-final was a hotly contested one, with the prize for the winners a certain place in the Sam Maguire end of the Championship. The game went to extra-time where Louth eventually prevailed by 0-27 to 2-15.
Inevitably, the run ended against Dublin in the final. Although Louth opened brightly, once Dublin got into their usual Leinster final rhythm they went to town on their opponents, thumping them by 5-21 to 0-15.
Louth played their opening group stage match on Saturday. Unable to host their home game within the county, they nominated Páirc Tailteann in Navan as their home ground and it was there that they entertained Cork. The Wee County had won the corresponding League fixture but last Saturday, in a high-scoring encounter, the Rebels prevailed by 1-19 to 1-17.
This means that Mickey Harte takes his charges west knowing that his team needs to get something out of Sunday’s game to keep their hopes of advancement in the Championship alive.
Their cause will, though, be helped by the fact that Mickey knows plenty about playing Mayo in Castlebar, having prowled the sideline there many times, often to good effect, while managing Tyrone.
He knows plenty, then, about unfurling a blanket in the tight confines of MacHale Park. Having seen Roscommon profit from such suffocating tactics at the venue back in April, I think we can all guess the playbook Mickey will be operating from on Sunday. The fact that the same ref – who was, from our perspective, worse than abysmal in that game – is on duty on Sunday will, no doubt, have been noted by Louth, as I’m sure it will have been by our brains trust as well.
One difference from the Rossie game is that the current fine spell of weather we’re enjoying shows no sign of ending so, as Davy Burke’s team discovered on Sunday at Croke Park, all-hands-to-the-pump defensive tactics are extremely difficult to keep up for a full game. All the more so for Louth, perhaps, as a Division Two side, up against Division One opposition.
It’s not surprising that we’re very strong favourites to win on Sunday, even if the sight of Mickey Harte on the touchline, not to mention the twin threats of Sam Mulroy and Conor Grimes up front, might give us some justifiable pause for thought. Louth will definitely seek to make it difficult for us and do their utmost to drag us into the kind of dour contest that we so often struggle to deal with.
This is a game we should still win, perhaps with a bit to spare. But will we? Let’s end by testing the waters on that proposition.
How will we do against Louth?
- Win (87%, 812 Votes)
- Lose (9%, 84 Votes)
- Draw (4%, 36 Votes)
Total Voters: 932