All-Ireland SFC: Antrim stun Louth
All-Ireland SFC Round 1 Qualifiers
ANTRIM 2-16 LOUTH 1-11
By Dan Bannon in Gaelic Grounds Drogheda
Matthew Fitzpatrick was in inspired form for Antrim as they picked up their first Qualifier win since 2015 with an eight point victory over Louth in the Gaelic Grounds.
The Naomh Eoin clubman scorched through the wee county rearguard in the first half and showed supreme pace and balance to glide through and show the nous to back it up with two fine finishes.
Louth, on the back of their loss to Dublin, struggled in the second half despite leading by six points in the opening stages. They lost Goalkeeper Fergal Sheekey and Declan Byrne down the stretch as frustrations boiled over as their season came to a close.
Antrim impressed right from the very start as Ryan Murray helped his team into a two point lead. Louth were in contention though, with Ryan Burns rattling the upright.
Louth soon took over with three scores in succession from Andy McDonnell, Ciaran Downey and Declan Byrne.
McDonnell then found the back of the net as Louth were well on top with Murray miscuing a number of close range frees for Antrim.
Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson, who had a brief management spell locally with Louth club Dundalk Gaels, put this inside knowledge of Louth football to good use as he made a number of switches which helped Antrim find a way back into the game.
Fitzpatrick benefited the most as he found the net twice in five minutes to put Antrim two points ahead.
Louth clawed back into contention with John Clutterbuck swirling over from long range before Declan Byrne, a late replacement for Jim McEneaney, levelled.
Murray would make up for his earlier free taking malaise to nudge Antrim ahead at the break 2-5 to 1-7. The game was perfectly poised for either team to show resilience in the second period to capture the win.
The second half began like the first Murray with landing a brace of points. The signal of intent was enough to rattle Louth.
Ryan Burns and Conall McKeever did briefly respond for the hosts but the Antrim onslaught was relentless.
Substitute Ruairí Scott was hugely influential as a replacement, his two points hammer blows to Louth who simply had no answer.
Louth could only find the target four times in total in the second half as Antrim defended the lead expertly on the back of Fitzpatrick’s green flag cushion.
Tempers boiled over as Sheekey and Byrne saw red in the games final moments as Scott brought the game to a close with the cheers of the delighted travelling Saffron supporters echoing through Drogheda.
Scorers for Antrim: Matthew Fitzpatrick 2-1, Ryan Murray 0-6 (1fs), Patrick McBride 0-3 (1f), Ruairí Scott and Colum Duffin 0-2 each, Patrick McCormick and Niall Delargy 0-1 each.
Scorers for Louth: Andy McDonnell 1-1, Ryan Burns (2f) and Declan Byrne 0-2 each , Conall McKeever, Emmet Carolan, Ciaran Downey, Tommy Durnin, John Clutterbuck and Bevan Duffy 0-1 each
ANTRIM: Padraig Nugent; Patrick McCormick, Ricky Johnston, Patrick Gallagher; Paddy McBride, Declan Lynch, Niall Delargy; Colum Duffin, Stephen Beatty; James McAuley, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Kevin Quinn; Ryan Murray, Michael McCarry, Eunan Walsh. Subs: Ryan McNulty for James McAuley (5), Conor Murray for McCarry (h-t), Ruairí Scott for Beatty (49), Fintan Burke for K Quinn (64), James Smith for C Duffin (68), Patrick Branagan for N Delargy (72).
LOUTH: Fergal Sheekey; Dan Corcoran, Fergal Donohoe, James Craven; Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin, James Califf; Andy McDonnell, Declan Byrne, Conall McKeever; Ciaran Downey, Sam Mulroy, Ryan Burns. Subs: Eoghan Duffy for McDonnell (h-t) Conor Early for Califf (48), Ronan Holcroft for Downey (49), Emmet Carolan for Craven (56), Conor Grimes for Mulroy (58) Craig Lynch for J Clutterbuck (58).
Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).