Louth match preview

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Lone Shark
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Louth match preview

Post by Lone Shark » Tue May 03, 2005 10:40 pm

This is the sanitised preview for the paper - a bit tame, but ye get the idea - it'll get the ball rolling anyway....

Being a GAA supporter is an odd life at the best of times. The calendar of most GAA followers, this one included, involves attending club games as a neutral with an eye for who’d be best able to make the step up to county grade the following summer, underage matches are devoured so as to see who out of the next generation might have the extra special qualities the seniors currently lack, and challenge and league matches feature on the agenda, with the result of infinitely less importance than how various players are shaping up in their respective roles. An overwhelming majority of games attended are with another game entirely in mind – Championship Sunday.

So here it is – the Sunday that is the raison d’etre of every Offaly football supporter – the first round of the Leinster Championship, with the Wee County set to square up against us in Navan.

Taking a broader view for a moment, realistically for this Offaly team to consider 2005 a successful year, a first appearance in an All Ireland quarter final since the new structure came into existence is an absolute must. Ideally a Leinster title would be our path to that point, so for a team with such goals, this Louth team should be beaten with the minimum of fuss. Certainly one would expect the side awaiting the winners of this clash, Laois, to despatch this Louth outfit with plenty to spare. To compare the two sides directly, Offaly come in on the back of a decent league campaign where they avoided relegation from division 1A, widely acknowledged to have been the toughest of the four divisions, even if the flag bearers fell at the semi final stage. Wins were secured over Westmeath and Donegal, with an additional draw against Mayo. Louth played in division 2B, and only secured victories over Waterford and Tipperary, safely the weakest football teams playing intercounty football at the moment. Offaly have been competitive if not spectacular in the championship recent years, while Louth have failed to notch up any successes against opponents of note. And Offaly come into the game with only the thumb injury of Barry Mooney really a concern, and although he is captain, he plays in an area of the field where we have no shortage of cover. Louth travel to Navan with their centre back and full forward absent; and with both midfielders, their star corner back, and leading scorer in recent years all either doubtful or short on match practice. On paper at least, this is a game Offaly should be winning with something in hand.

But if for no other reason than football boots would rip the playing surface to shreds, the phrase “Championship games aren’t played on paper” is well aired and is as much of a truism as it ever was. Should Offaly take any amount of complacency onto the field, Louth are well equipped to make us the first side into the qualifiers in 2005. They will line out in Páirc Tailteann with some very capable players matched up against proven weak links in the Faithful line up. In particular the corner back slots have been difficult to fill adequately, and Louth will look to make hay here. Though Shane Lennon currently has his ankle in plaster and will take no part, Niall Sharkey scored freely during the league campaign, and JP Rooney has returned from a long absence with some very good displays in challenge matches against Antrim and Wicklow in recent weeks. These are dangerous players who can accumulate scores quickly if not marshalled adequately. Likewise young midfielder Paddy Keenan has really stepped up and become one of their star turns, and with James Grennan struggling to recapture his form of old, Keenan could give Louth the primary possession on which to feed their stars inside. Darren Clarke and Mark Stanfield operating on the 45 have been playing well and scoring regularly also, and will provide good support in linking up these lines. Scott Brady and Karol Slattery will find themselves with plenty to do defensively before they can think about providing the attacking support that they are so accomplished at.

However further back the pitch, Louth haven’t convinced, and any team averaging almost fifteen points per game in a tough league like 1A as Offaly have should be able to run up a decent tally. Aaron Hoey, regular centre back is almost certainly absent, and although Conor Sheridan and David Macken have played well, in the absence of their fulcrum the twin attack of Coughlan and McNamee will be hopeful of getting their year off to a fine start.

The difference between Offaly having a struggle on their hands and having a comfortable afternoon largely lies in the hands of the key operators around the middle. If our midfield can win a fair share of possession, it will both starve Louth supply lines and get the ball into the hands of Colm Quinn, who has the ability to control the game from the middle third. Mark Daly’s support from the half forward line in this regard should tip the balance in our favour eventually.

In truth though this is a potential banana skin, this is the sort of game that Offaly can and should take a lot of benefit from. If our customary slow start can be avoided, and someone claims the left corner back slot as their own – this observer’s humble opinion is that the pace and tight marking of James Keane should be deployed here – this game should be secured with six or seven points to spare and the team will be better equipped to make the massive step up against our neighbours to the south in the quarter final. [/i]

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