Pete McGrath hopes Louth can generate momentum
By Cian O'Connell
Injuries, defeats, and relegation from Division Two of the Allianz Football League ensured Louth hit McGovern Park for a demanding Round One Qualifier against London worried, but Pete McGrath’s young team summoned an important win.
Now McGrath is hopeful that Louth can generate some Championship momentum with Saturday’s tussle with Leitrim at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada promising to be another revealing encounter.
“I said to our players when the draw came out that this is probably the draw both Leitrim and Louth wanted - to play each other,” McGrath admits.
“We know on a given day we can beat Leitrim and the Leitrim players are sitting back saying we have Louth coming to Carrick-on-Shannon and we have every chance of beating them. That is valid.
“I think what you say is true, you have two teams here with no baggage, two teams that are on paper are probably even matched.
"For lesser teams if you get the first win and that bit of momentum and if the players buy into what the qualifiers can bring to them and bring for them." - Pete McGrath
“So for that reason the prize at stake is a big one because whoever prevails on Saturday night goes into the next round of the qualifiers and you have the prospect then of meeting one of the really big guns.
“That is what maybe sometimes smaller counties really relish, getting a crack at counties that are historically much stronger than they are. That is what is at stake on Saturday night.”
In the qualifiers possibilities exist with McGrath acknowledging how crucial it is to acquire belief by stitching a winning sequence together. “There is no doubt about that and obviously when big teams go out of the provincial Championships the likes of Tyrone and Mayo and so on then they can, if they get reasonable draws, they can plot a way through the stormy waters of the qualifiers to get to the final stages of the Championship,” McGrath says.
“For lesser teams if you get the first win and that bit of momentum and if the players buy into what the qualifiers can bring to them and bring for them.”
McGrath wants his Louth players to gain more summer experience in 2018. “I always felt for a youngish team getting a run in the qualifiers can be almost like money in the bank for next season in terms of experience, in terms of playing at this level in hard edged inter-county games,” McGrath acknowledges. “So the qualifiers are a low on to themselves maybe and if you get reasonable draws against opposition that you know on a given day you can beat who knows how far it will go and where it will lead.
“I suppose that is the sense of unknown which the qualifiers throws up every year in terms of certain counties who go further than a lot of people expect. Hopefully that will be the case with us. You can't look any further, obviously, than your next game.”
It has been a demanding campaign for Louth, who endured a tough spring before losing to Carlow in the Leinster Senior Football Championship. Louth’s response in Ruislip pleased McGrath.
“The Carlow performance overall disappointed us,” McGrath adds. “For the first 25 minutes against Carlow we played exceptionally well, it was probably the best football we have played all season.
“We were leading by three points, but in the second half there was almost an implosion, lets put it that way. Going to Ruislip was going to be tricky, it was going to be a test of the players desire. How much they wanted to stay in the competition, and since the Carlow game they have knuckled down.
“The performance against London reflected the character of the players because it is never an easy place to go. We played very well for large parts of the game and we put up a big score.
"To go to get the win against London was good because a win reassures players. A win can give players confidence and self belief more so than anything a manager can say." - Pete McGrath
“Defensively maybe there are certain issues we have to look at and we have been looking at, but overall we were more than happy with the performance and the result which was vital.”
McGrath accepts the reality that a victory was needed in London and that it has offered a significant injection of optimism to the Louth panel.
“Yes there is no doubt that a win is worth more than a million words of encouragement,” McGrath remarks. “Obviously the National League was difficult because Division Two contained a lot of very accomplished teams. Louth went into it minus quite a number of players that had played in the previous season in Division Three.
“So there were problems there and you have to deal with them. The team battled throughout the course of the League, but obviously when you get into a losing sequence then that can become almost a fixed mindset.
“Possibly that kicked in against Carlow when they upped the ante in the second half. To go to get the win against London was good because a win reassures players. A win can give players confidence and self belief more so than anything a manager can say.
“From the point of view of the team developing and younger players gaining that confidence and getting that foothold at this level the win was critical. Obviously we have to build on that.” The next test is set for the west on Saturday evening.