Derry 1-18, Louth 2-10
James Kielt was Derry’s inspiration as Damian Barton’s Oak Leafers belatedly got their Championship season up and running with a hard fought win over Louth at Owenbeg on Saturday evening.
Louth were far from happy with the six days turnaround since their Leinster Championship defeat against Meath with manager Colin Kelly hitting out at the GAA for the scheduling and he seemed to have good reason as the ‘Wee County’ eventually ran out of legs as Derry pulled away in the second half.
Kielt was central to all that, hitting 1-09 in an excellent all round performance which included two penalties, one a superb slot into the top corner before he sent the second one wide.
A close game saw the sides level on six occasions before Derry eventually pulled away with Kielt, who scored one penalty and missed another, central to everything they did.
Barton sprang a surprise by naming goalkeeping coach Michael Conlan at No. 1 for the match after last year’s minor keeper Callum Mullan-Young injured his groin and had to be content with a place on the bench. It was the Ballinderry stalwart’s first appearance for his county in over four years.
Yet it was Louth keeper Craig Lynch who was in the action right from the throw-in after Mark Lynch gathered Conor McAtamney’s long ball 13 seconds in and shrug off a challenge before seeing Lynch block his goal bound effort with his legs.
Throughout the half, the long ball in from Derry would cause problems and the real surprise was how seldom they looked to hit Lynch and Emmet McGuckin inside.
James Califf opened the scoring two minutes in for the visitors with a free but it was quickly cancelled by James Kielt from play.
There was little between the sides in the opening exchanges as both teams employing sweepers to try and stifle the opposition and hit on the break. Point from Christopher Bradley for Derry and a Ryan Burns’ free had the sides level 12 minutes in before the ‘Wee County’ won a penalty.
It owed everything to the tenacity of full forward Conor Grimes whose run down the right took him past two Derry defenders and to the by-line. His hand pass square was seeking to pick out Jim McEnaney and it would have had the Louth half-forward’s run not been abruptly stopped by two Derry defenders. McEnaney dusted himself and stepped up to send his spot kick low past Conlan to the keeper’s right for a three point lead.
Derry’s response was impressive. First a Lynch free reduced the deficit before McGuckin showed how dangerous he could be by cutting inside and firing in a shot that forced the Louth keeper into a fantastic reaction save to push the ball over the bar.
and that wasn’t Derry only goal chance. Twice inside the space of a minute Christopher Bradley could have hit the Louth net. First McGuckin gathered another ball in and laid off the Bradley who flashed his shot across the goal and wide at the far past.
Inside 60 seconds, the Oak Leafers had won possession back inside their own half, James Kielt leading the break that ended with Bradley again in a goal scoring position but this time his shot straight at Lynch.
The sides continued to trade scores Califf from frees helping Louth go into the break with a 1-05 to 0-07 lead.
That lead only lasted 15 seconds after the restart with a Mark Lynch free levelling matters but Louth responded with excellent points from Grimes and Declan Byrne to move two in front.
Kielt brought it back to the minimum but Derry insistence on deploying two and sometimes three sweepers meant they were struggling at times to get up and support their front men.
Both sides rung the changes , Derry introducing four changes inside 10 minutes and it paid immediate dividends as the Oak Leafers moved three points in front thanks to three Kielt frees and a lovely point over his shoulder from McGuckin.
That lead looked defining when it reached 0-15 to 1-07 but Derry’s defence hadn’t convinced all and Conor Grimes made them pay again with another barnstorming run that set up Declan Byrne for Louth second goal on 59 minutes. The full forward again came in off the right and drew in a number of defender before finding Bryne who stepped inside Conlan and shot into the empty net before tagging on another point for 0-15 to 2-08.
Another Kielt free settled home nerves a little and when Niall Toner did superb to set up Danny Heavron who was pulled down by Lynch in front of the Louth goal, there was only one man going to take the penalty. Up stepped Kielt to find the top corner with a brilliant finish for a 1-16 to 2-09.
Califf grabbed a free for the visitors but within 30 seconds the ball was once again on the Louth sport after Conor McAtamney was upended. Again Kielt stepped forward and but this time his shot was wide and the deficit remained at four points.
It didn’t proved crucial though as late scores from Toner and fellow substitute Emmet Bradley ensured the Oak Leafers progressed to the next round with Louth goalscorer Byrne receiving a red card in injury time for dissent.
Derry: Michael Conlan; Gareth McKinless, Ciaran Mullan, Karl McKaigue; Neil Forester, Brendan Rogers, Liam McGoldrick; Conor McAtamney, Niall Holly; Danny Heavron, Chrstopher Bradley (0-3), Eoghan Brown; James Kielt (1-9, 6f, 1pen), Emmett McGuckin (0-2), Mark Lynch (0-2, 2). (Subs) Kevin Johnston for L McGoldrick, 41mins; Niall Loughlin for E Brown, 42mins; Niall Toner (0-1) for M Lynch, 49mins; Emmett Bradley (0-1) for N Holly, 51mins; Oisin Duffy for C Mullan, 63mins; Shane Heavron for E McGuckin, 69mins;
Louth: Craig Lynch; Padraig Rath, Patrick Reilly, John Bingham; Derek Maguire, Darren McMahon, Anthony Williams; James Stewart, James Califf (0-4, 4f); Declan Byrne (1-3), Jim McEneaney (1-1, 1pen), Ruairi Moore; Eoghan Lafferty, Conor Grimes (0-1), Ryan Burns (0-1, 1f). (Subs) Gerard McSorley for J McEnaney, 41mins; Adrian Reid for R Moore, 46mins; Bevan Duffy for J Stewart, 50mins; Jim McEnaney for R Burns, 64mins;
Referee: Martin Duffy (Sligo)