All-Ireland SFC Round 4
Louth v Dublin, today 5pm (Croke Park)
ONE way or another, an exorcism of some description will be witnessed at Croke Park this afternoon.
The question is, will it be Dublin or Louth performing the ceremony and laying their Royal ghosts to rest?
The qualifier route, by its very nature, is supposed to be an avenue of redemption but rarely can two teams have met at this late juncture of the championship having suffered so much at the same hands.
The back stories hardly need recapping.
The trauma Dublin suffered at Meath’s hands may have differed radically from that endured by Louth but the bottom line is that both counties have been left badly scarred by their mutual neighbour.
Dublin, at least, have had the benefit of four weeks’ grace and two steadying wins since they leaked five goals to Eamon O’Brien’s side. Louth return to battle having been afforded no such preparatory baby steps.
In that sense, what unfolds come 5pm today depends to a large extent on how Peter Fitzpatrick’s side have coped with the fallout to Joe Sheridan’s late goal and the controversy and uncertainty which it spawned.
“Without doubt, Louth have been the strongest team in Leinster this year,” said Dublin boss Pat Gilroy yesterday. “They were very unlucky in the Leinster final but they’ve been the most consistent team. They gave three very good performances in Leinster. I think it’s going to be a good challenge for us because they beat a team, effectively, that beat us by 11 points. We’re under no illusions that we’re going to require a big performance to get a result.”
It is, in many ways, the perfect draw for Louth. It could be argued that they won’t relish returning to the scene of the crime so quickly but few games stir the senses like a crack at the Dubs at Croke Park.
Without meaning any disrespect, the suspicion is that it would have been harder for minds to refocus on the task ahead if the Wee men were facing Down or Limerick in a neutral venue somewhere in the provinces.
“I don’t think Louth will have feared anybody, really, apart from maybe Cork,” said the Dublin manager. “They would have been happy to get anybody because they’re playing well. They’re the form team.”
That may be so but Dublin just don’t seem to do losses against Louth. The last time the border county claimed bragging rights after a championship clash between the pair was 1973 and Dublin have rattled off a dozen straight wins in the interval. The last three have been overwhelmingly one-side affairs with the 1999, 2003 and 2008 head-to-heads in the Leinster championship ending with the capital side winning by an average of over 12 points a game.
Current Dublin captain, David Henry, featured in those last two cakewalks and many of the same Louth players from that defeat two years ago will be present again today, but Henry sees more differences than similarities in the Louth models between now and then.
“This Louth team this year is a much fresher team and a team that seems to be enjoying their football, playing a bit off the cuff and expressing themselves so the games we played against Louth in the past won’t have any effect.”
As seismic as a win would be for Louth, a defeat for Dublin would be just as significant. The 22-time All-Ireland champions have never failed to reach the last eight since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001 so their absence from the August Bank Holiday weekend would be a major departure.
Gilroy has been consistent in his claim that this year is all about progress rather than results but the evidence of the games against Tipperary and Armagh would suggest that he is finally beginning to fashion the side in his own image after much trial and error.
If the side named yesterday starts today it will be the first time all summer that he hasn’t seen fit to tinker with his starting 15, but Gilroy continues to preach the gospel of patience and wave away talk of expectation or a slot in the last eight of the championship.
“The expectation within our own group is to perform well, whenever we exit this year’s championship. That is the big thing for us, that we put in a performance like what we are trying to do. Last weekend was like that.
“It wasn’t perfect but, no matter where it finishes up for us this year, we will be happy. Obviously, you always go out to win but, realistically, we really struggled to beat Armagh last weekend and they are a Division Two team. We still feel that getting the performances out of ourselves this year will be progress. That’s how we measure ourselves so we have to be a bit patient but this is a game that, if we perform, we should be capable of winning.”
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