McGrath was plotting a second successive opening day win over his native county after storming Pairc Esler 12 months ago with Fermanagh, but an encore was always unlikely as the Mourne men kept their neighbours at arm’s length throughout a scrappy encounter.
Louth did start brightly against a very strong breeze, but Down found their rhythm as the half progressed and led by 0-7 to 0-4 at the interval.
They continued in that vein in the third quarter, opening a six-point gap - 0-11 to 0-5 - but Louth rallied and it was Down’s response to that mini-revival that pleased current boss Eamon Burns the most about his side’s performance.
“I thought we used and controlled the ball very well in the second-half and we created openings and took scores at very important times. Louth came back into it and it was down to two or three points, but we managed to get back up the field for a couple of very important points and then the goal shortly after, which probably finished the game as a contest.”
The momentum did seem to be with Louth as they chewed through Down’s lead with four unanswered points, but 1-2 from full-forward Connaire Harrison in the space of three minutes re-asserted Down’s control.
The Glassdrumman man’s first point was a real pressure reliever and Louth ‘keeper Craig Lynch gifted him a second with a poor kick-out. Harrison needed two attempts at the goal, but eventually found the bottom corner after a scramble in the small square.
McGrath felt that calamitous three-minute spell was the tipping point for Louth, but he wasn’t completely down-in-the-mouth about the defeat.
“I thought the first 15 minutes we played exceptionally well and controlled the game to a large extent and going in 7-4 down wasn’t too bad.
“But I told the players the breeze will not win it for us, and although we started off the second-half quite well, we lost our way. We became disorganised and bit discouraged. We eventually woke up and got it to two points and I thought at that stage it was anybody’s game. We almost had the next kick-out, but they broke down the field and kicked a point and a bad kick-out gifted them another point, and it was always going to be difficult after that.”
Burns is expecting a different kind of test from Cork next Sunday, especially after the Rebels’ defeat to Tipperary on Saturday.
“Cork at home will be a different kettle of fish altogether. We went there last year and got a result, which sort of kick-started our season, so we’ll be expecting a tough game against Cork.”
Like Cork, Louth can’t really afford a second straight defeat when they travel to Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night, but McGrath insisted his players will learn from their mistakes.
“Irresepctive of what was going to happen here today, the Cavan match was going to be a big challenge. What we saw here and what we take from it will obviously impact on how we approach the Cavan match. I’d like to think both management and players learned a lot today.”
C Harrison (1–3); D O’Hanlon (0–3 frees); A Morgan, C Mooney (0–2 each); N Donnelly, S Millar, K McKiernan, D O’Hare (0–1 each).
W Woods (0–6, 5 frees); T Durnin, D Maguire (0–2 each); A McDonnell (0–1).
S Harrison; C Flanagan, G McGovern, B McArdle; D O’Hanlon, N McParland, A Doherty; C Poland, N Donnelly; S Millar, C Maginn, C Mooney; S Dornan, C Harrison, A Morgan. Subs: D O’Hare for Dornan (ht); K McKiernan for Maginn (43); D O’Hagan for Doherty (46); D McKibbin for Donnelly (50).
C Lynch; J Bingham, E Carolan, J Craven; D Marks, B Duffy, A Williams; T Durnin, A McDonnell; D Maguire, J McEneaney, C McKeever; D Byrne, G McSorley, W Woods.
J Stewart for McKeever (35), C Grimes for Stewart (57), R Holcroft for Byrne (58), T McEneaney for McSorley (67).
C Reilly (Meath).