MOST supporters, even those of the most pessimistic bent, are inclined to hold off until the first few rounds of the National League at least before despairing of their county’s chances of shining come the summer.
In Louth, it would be fair to say that the knockers were clearing their throats as early as last October, when the county was handed the short straw of a Leinster first round game against Dublin. And at Croke Park to boot.
Even at that distance, the news could have cast a shadow over the side’s entire season but manager Eamonn McEneaney adopted the perfect tone in formulating his response.
“Realistically, if we are going to make an impact in Leinster we will have to beat the likes of Dublin at some stage,” he said at the time. “It’s a tough draw. There’s no doubt about that, but we’d hope we have learned enough over the last few years to go up against them.”
History would beg to differ. Dublin have won the last 11 meetings between the two sides. The last time Louth saw off their next door neighbours in the championship was back in 1973 in a first round replay in Navan.
It was 16 years earlier when they last saw off the Dubs at Croke Park. That was in a Leinster final and they would go on to win the last of three All-Irelands titles that September.
No-one is expecting them to make a dash through to the autumn months this year but veteran attacker Aaron Hoey hasn’t allowed the unfavourable draw to narrow his horizons.
“We’re approaching the game much the same as we would any championship match. It’s a big start for us against Dublin but, if you want to progress in the championship, you will have to meet them at some stage. You might as well meet them in the first round as the semi-final or final. You play the opposition in front of you.”
Who would have dared predict exits for Meath and Kildare by the first month in June? “That’s the way the Leinster Championship is. Nobody expected Wicklow to come out and beat Kildare. Nobody expected us to come out and beat Kildare last year either when we played them in the qualifiers.
“Everyone thought we would walk all over Wicklow last year but it took us three games to beat them.
“On their day, the likes of Carlow, Wicklow and even ourselves can match anyone else.”
The problem with Louth is you just never know when it is going to be their day, and their inconsistency has held them back under McEneaney, just as it did under previous managers.
It all started so well for the Monaghan man when his appointment on an unprecedented five-year term seemed to bring much-needed stability to the county after four managers in four years had left them on their knees. McEneaney delivered a Division Two trophy as an opening gambit and endeared himself to players and fans alike by running All-Ireland champions Tyrone to a replay in the qualifiers.
The only problem was they should never have been there. Having scorched Meath with a brilliant first-half display in the Leinster Championship, they collapsed and conceded 1-9 without reply in the second period.
They continued to mix the good with the bad all through 2007, starting the league strongly but finishing it weakly before stuttering once again in Leinster and recovering spectacularly for the back door, where they had Cork by the throat in round three of the qualifiers at one point.
This year’s league offered little to suggest that they could buck that trend after finishing mid-table in Division Three and losing to the three counties that stood above them on the ladder.
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