Louth 2-24 Carlow 3-11: Colin Kelly, about as proud a Louth man as you’ll meet, was keeping his powder dry immediately after Saturday’s win on the prospect of facing bitter rivals Meath at Parnell Park next month.
Just another Championship game was the gist of the manager’s response to the suggestion that the Leinster quarter-final tie could be one of the games of the summer considering all the history — most of it wretched in Louth’s case — between the north-eastern neighbours.
Back in January, however, before the sides met in the O’Byrne Cup semi-finals, Kelly was more open when asked about the 2010 Leinster final that will forever dominate any discussion relating to the two counties.
Louth, of course, were forced to settle for a moral victory that day, an actual first title since 1957 stolen from them when an illegal injury-time goal from Meath’s Joe Sheridan was allowed to stand.
“Whenever I talk about 2010, I always say the same thing — it was an injustice that was done by the GAA to Louth, there’s no denying that,” said Kelly in January. “It absolutely affected the people of the county at the time and particularly the players themselves. They would all feel that Louth were denied a Leinster championship. We won the Leinster championship and didn’t get the actual reward.”
That’s the sort of talk that will surely be used to motivate Louth for the battle Royal in the coming weeks, even if, on the record, Kelly isn’t prepared to publicly set that powder keg of emotions alive.
“Lookit,” he started after watching his team streak to victory over Carlow, “whether it’s Meath, Dublin or Carlow, whoever it is, a Championship match is a Championship match. What we spoke about before the game was actually how special it is to represent your county on Championship day.
“If you had one wish for every footballer it’s that’s they should get the opportunity to do it once. That’s obviously not the case so I said it to the lads in the dressing-room, every time you get to wear the crest on Championship day, it’s special.
“In four weeks’ time, we have a big occasion against neighbours, friends and foes. We’ll treat is as such, give them the respect they deserve and we’ll have a right cut.”
Kelly was a spectator in 2002 when Graham Geraghty, who arrived at Pairc Tailteann in a helicopter from his best man duties at a wedding in Wexford, nailed a 74th minute Meath goal to seal a famous Championship win.
The nagging sense of theft was worse again in 2010 and, in 2011, Meath knocked five goals past Louth in the qualifiers though it was sweet in 2012 when the Wee men effectively relegated Meath to Division 3 with a win in the final round of the league.
Louth will believe they can win next month too because Kelly has a talented young team now led by a thrilling two-man full-forward line of Ryan Burns and Conor Grimes, both just out of U-21s.
Grimes hit the injury-time goal that sealed the Division 4 league title for Louth last month. Burns conjured the late drama this time, his 70th minute goal deciding the contest and bringing his tally to 1-7. Overall, Kelly has developed a team that refuses to relent.
“The one thing we know is that whether it’s 74, 75 or 80 minutes, we’ll be going right to the end,” continued Kelly. “That’s a trait we’ve built up within this team. It’s something we’ve worked really hard on.
“Our group has built up a culture that they work as hard as they can. And we’re trying to get to a stage where it doesn’t phase us if we concede scores like, say, the goals Carlow got.
“Each time we went up and got a couple of scores straight away in reply and every time they got within touching distance of us we pulled away again.”
Louth always led on Saturday and were 0-11 to 0-6 ahead at half-time though Carlow were never quite out of it until being burned — or ‘Byrned’, to more specific — off late on.
Chris Blake’s 41st minute goal for Carlow left just one in it and there was only two between them with 62 minutes on the clock following a second goal scored by Darragh O’Brien.
But Louth have strong forward options and a free spirit and tagged on 2-7 in the closing period to win with plenty to spare.
Scorers for Louth:
R. Burns (1-7, 5 frees), J. Califf (0-5, 3 frees), A. Williams (1-0), J. McEneaney (0-3), D. Byrne, D. Maguire, C. Grimes (0-2 each), G. McSorley, J. Stewart, R. Holcroft (0-1 each).
Scorers for Carlow:
D. Foley (0-5, 5 frees), P. Broderick (1-1, 1-0 pen, 1 free), C. Blake, D. O’Brien (1-0 each), Brendan Murphy (0-2), S. Gannon, B. Kavanagh, J. Murphy (0-1 each).
C. Lynch; K. Toner, P. Reilly, P. Rath (c); D. Maguire, D. McMahon, A. Williams; J. Stewart, J. Califf; D. Byrne, J. McEneaney, C. McKeever; B. Duffy, R. Burns, C. Grimes.
R. Moore for Duffy (45); G. McSorley for McKeever (65); R. Holcroft for McEneaney (72); J. Bingham for McMahon (75 BC).
R. Molloy; B. Kavanagh, D. St Ledger, K. Nolan; H. Gahan, J. Murphy, G. Kelly; B. Murphy, S. Gannon; D. Lunney, D. O’Brien, A. Kelly; P. Broderick, D. Foley (c), C. Blake.
Brian Murphy for Lunney (49); G. Power for J Murphy (59); D. Smithers for Blake (70); E. Finnegan for Kelly (70).
N. Mooney (Cavan).
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