GAA All-Ireland Football Qualifiers Round One
Louth 1-11–2-16 Antrim
By Kevin Herron from the Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda
As Antrim travel to Haggardstown on Saturday they may well reflect on the last time these sides met. It was the qualifiers of 2019 and the Saffron headed to Droheda as underdogs but produced a superb performance to comprehensively defeat the ‘|Wee County’. That result will have little bearing on what happens in Saturday’s division 4 North fixture but demonstrated what an Antrim side at the top of their own game are capable of.
Antrim claimed their first championship win since 2015 with a comfortable 2-16-1-11 win over 13-man Louth at the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda this evening.
Despite trailing 1-05-0-02 midway through the opening half two goals in a dominant five minute period from star-forward Matt Fitzpatrick had the Saffrons ahead at the break.
Confidence was flowing through the visitors ranks as Ryan Murray, Fitzpatrick, Colum Duffin and Paddy McCormick all registered early second half scores.
With little over ten minutes remaining Louth lost their discipline as goalkeeper Fergal Sheekey was cited for a punch on Colum Duffin and received his marching orders.
Declan Byrne followed moments later after picking up a second yellow-card but by that stage the game was beyond his side and Lenny Harbinson’s men ran out eight-point victors at the full-time whistle as the jubilant Saffrons supporters celebrated with their heroes at the conclusion.
Both sides made late changes to pre-match selections as Declan Byrne replaced Jim McEnaney for the hosts and Michael McCarry replaced James Smith in the Antrim full-forward line.
Antrim made the brighter start at the Gaelic Grounds as Ryan Murray kicked them into an early two-point lead.
Patrick McBride slipped in the nippy corner-forward for a pop over the bar and the Lamh Dhearg native conjured up a second from a difficult angle.
But in between those scores the Saffrons survived their first warning of the game – Conall McKeever picked out the darting run of corner-forward Ryan Burns and Burns low drive cannoned off the post and out to safety.
Burns would register his sides first score and on eight minutes Ciaran Downey shaped up for a shot that sailed over the bar in the wet and breezy conditions to make it 0-02-0-02.
Just before the tenth minute mark the hosts hit the front as Tommy Durnin linked-up with late replacement Declan Byrne who justified his selection with a simple pop over the bar.
Confidence was running through the Louth side and Bevan Duffy’s shot dropped over the bar – at the other end Ryan Murray shot wide from a scoreable free.
It was from the same situation that Louth extended their lead as Ryan Burns converted for his second of the evening and from the resulting kick-out the opening goal of the game arrived.
Padraig Nugent’s kick dropped short was intercepted the play was switched to Sam Mulroy who cut inside and ran towards the target before picking out Andy McDonnell unopposed to palm to the Antrim net and make it 1-05-0-02 midway through the opening half.
Antrim were without a score for almost a quarter of an hour but after a foul on St Johns club mate Matt Fitzpatrick; Paddy McBride converted the resulting free.
The Corrigan Park duo combined again two minutes later and there was greater joy to come – McBride played a delightful cross field pass to Fitzpatrick who took the ball in his stride and confidently headed for the target, the ball slipped out of his grasp momentarily but Fitzpatrick rifled high into the roof of the net past Fergal Sheekey to make it 1-05-1-03.
Ryan Murray spurned two further opportunities to narrow the margin further but was involved in his side regaining the lead ten minutes before the break.
Patrick McBride was again involved as his neat pass picked out the run of Murray who laid it off to the waiting Fitzpatrick who had one thing on his mind – a second goal which arrived after yet more brilliance from the Saffrons number eleven.
Leading 2-03-1-05 Antrim were growing in confidence and Niall Delargy kicked a fourth successive score before the half hour mark.
But Louth hit back through John Clutterbuck after referee Martin McNally allowed an advantage and Declan Byrne then shot straight between the posts to draw the sides level for a second time at 1-07-2-04.
It looked as though the sides would head into the break with nothing between them – but Ryan Murray atoned for four first half misses deep into added on time at the end of the first half and angled the ball over the bar for his third of the evening to make it 2-05-1-07 at the interval.
Just like the opening half Antrim had to survive an early scare in inside the opening 30-seconds of the restart – half-time substitute Eoghan Duffy was slipped through and his low drive crashed off the post with Nugent beaten.
Ryan Murray increased his sides lead with the first score of the half and a goal was almost forthcoming in the aftermath.
Fergal Sheekey’s kick-out was wayward and fell to Declan Lynch who weighed up his options and made space for a shot that was inches wide.
But Ryan McNulty turned over the resulting kick and slipped in goal scorer Fitzpatrick for his opening point of the evening.
Ryan Burns converted a free in response and the sides traded scores through Ryan Murray; after a superb diagonal pass from brother Conor, and Conall McKeever who burst through and shot over to make it 2-08-1-09.
McKeever’s score was to be his sides last in 23-minutes as Antrim took control and the hosts lost their discipline in between.
Colum Duffin conjured up a delightful score for his first of the evening and corner-back Paddy McCormick was awarded for joining in the attack with a point.
Antrim’s defence were infectious and the next score was made in the back line as Declan Lynch won possession and picked out Kevin Quinn whose cross field pass put his side on the front foot with substitute Ruairi Scott fisting over the bar to give his side a 2-11-1-09 lead.
Patrick McBride and Duffin added further points and in the aftermath of Duffin’s second of the game, Louth’s evening went from bad to worse as goalkeeper Fergal Sheekey was adjudged to have struck out at Duffin and referee Martin McNally showed the shot stopper a red-card.
Within two minutes things had gone from bad to worse as Declan Byrne caught Conor Murray round the neck and received a second yellow-card. Patrick McBride shot between the posts as Antrim made the most of their numerical advantage.
Louth ended their 23-minute baron spell with a point from substitute Emmet Carolan but Ryan Murray landed his sixth score of the evening in response.
The sides traded scores in injury-time through Tommy Durnin and Ruairi Scott but the game was well beyond doubt as Antrim claimed claimed a rare win in the Qualifiers to take their place in Monday mornings draw.
Louth: F Sheeky, D Corcoran, F Donohoe, J Craven, A Williams, B Duffy (0-01), J Clutterbuck (0-01), T Durnin (0-01), J Califf, C Downey (0-01), D Byrne (0-02), C McKeever (0-01), A McDonnell (1-00), S Mulroy, R Burns (0-03, 0-01f). Subs: E Duffy for A McDonnell (30 mins), C Early for J Califf (48 mins), R Holcroft for C Downey (49 mins), E Carolan (0-01) for J Craven (56 mins), C Grimes for S Mulroy (59 mins), C Lynch for J Clutterbuck (60 mins).
Antrim: P Nugent, P McCormick (0-01), R Johnston, P Gallagher, P McBride (0-03, 0-01f), D Lynch, N Delargy (0-01), C Duffin (0-02), S Beatty, J McAuley, M Fitzpatrick (2-01), K Quinn, R Murray (0-06, 0-01f), M McCarry, E Walsh. Subs: R McNulty for J McAuley (5 mins), C Murray for M McCarry (30 mins), R Scott (0-02) for S Beatty (50 mins), F Burke for K Quinn (64 mins), J Smith for C Duffin (68 mins), P Branagan for N Delargy (71 mins).
Referee: Martin McNally (Muineachan)