Louth got their All-Ireland Junior Football Championship campaign off to the perfect start with a significant win over Antrim in Kilkerley on Saturday aftertoon.
In an exciting contest played in glorious weather it was the Northern side who opened the scoring when Caitlin Taggart shot over inside the first minute but Louth came back with two brilliant points from Niamh Rice to go 2-1 ahead by the sixth minute.
Lauren Boyle added to that lead as she benefited from good work by Sinead Woods and Aoife Russell but Antrim were back level midway through the half as Aoife Taggart and a fisted effort from midfielder Jenny McCavana were both on target .
Aoife Russell and Anna Finnegan then swapped points before the game’s first goal arrived on twenty one minutes as a Niamh Rice pass found Lauren Boyle in space and the Cooley Kickhams star unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot to the corner of the net for the game’s opening goal
Boosted by this score Louth grabbed the initative for the the remainder of the half and added a further five points to their credit from Bonnie Fleming (1) Aoife Russell (2) and Lauren Boyle (2), and after a short delay the latter’s last score waved wide by the umpires, and with no hawk eye to call on Referee Declan Carolan overuled their call and awarded the score which ensured the Reds went to the break five ahead, 1-9 to 0-07.
Despite emerging for the second period with intent, the Saffrons who themselves were short a number of established players including Aine Devlin who picked up a leg injury in training recently, could only register a single point despite enjoying more possession against a well organised home defence, whereas a more economical Louth were more clinical, hitting the visitors for five points – with Sineád Woods, Boyle (3) and newcomer Bonnie Fleming raising white flags.
Leading 1-14 to 0-8 with 18 minutes to go, Boyle’s intercepted a misdirected pass and the livewire corner forward crashed an unstoppable shot past Antrim keeper Anna McCann to put the game firmly out of the Saffron county’s reach.
The teen sensation completed her hat-trick moments later with a calm finish as she placed her shot carefully into the corner of the net to ensure a comfortable victory for the home side, who must surely fancy their chances to reach the semi-finals with a home tie against Kilkenny on Saturday week and a trip to the English capital on August 11th to take on London in their remaining group matches.
The other group consists of Limerick, Carlow and Derry teams that Louth have beaten in the League, with the top two counties in each group advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the victory was that Louth overcame the absences of several key players to emerge triumphantly. Rachel Kane, Rebecca Carr, Susan Byrne, Paula Murray, Emma Singleton and Deirbhle Osborne were all missing, while full-back Eilish Hand went off through injury after only ten minutes.
These enforced changes forced the Louth management to play their key forward Kate Flood at midfield and to draft in a number of replacements including ex Monaghan Harps player Bonnie Fleming, Abbi O’Connor and the returning Eimear Byrne whose last appearance in a Louth jersey was against Offaly in the 2017 Intermediate Championship played in Mullingar
Speaking after the game, Louth manager Darren Bishop said: “It was a good, tough and physical test which the Louth team needed. The first half was a great test with some good scores from both teams.
“Losing our full-back after 10 minutes meant a reshuffle was needed, but the defence stuck to their task well.
“Our forwards were on form in the second half which was impressive, most notably Lauren Boyle scoring 3-7 over the course of the match.
“We’d some very good performances from our newcomers with Bonnie Fleming making her championship debut. Over the next few weeks, we will look to get back a number of our injured players, but we have strength in the panel.
“We’re very pleased to pick up our first victory in the All-Ireland series and look forward to our next match.
Antrim mentor Micheal Girvan felt the opening goal was crucial, ” It was pretty even for the first 20 minutes, the goal knocked us back and they added a further five points before the interval. We started the second half well but were unable to take our chances. Louth absorbed the pressure very well and were more clinicial with their finishing. They were the better side but the scoreline flattered them a little bit.
On this showing Louth look the team to beat, as for ourselves all is not lost, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and beat London and Kilkenny to remain in contention” concluded the St.Patricks (Lisburn) clubman.
Louth: Una Pearson; Michelle McMahon, Eilish Hand, Shannen McLoughlin; Eimear Murray, Ceire Nolan, Bronagh McGrane; Sineád Woods (0-01), Kate Flood; Emma McArdle, Aoife Russell (0-02), Niamh Rice (0-04); Lauren Boyle (3-07), Bonnie Fleming (0-03), Áine Breen Subs: Michelle McArdle, Rebecca Howell, Eimear Byrne
Antrim: Anna McCann; Caoimhoimhe Stewart, Emma Kelly, Maria Hanna; Ciara Brown, Stephanie Corcoran, Niamh McIntosh; Jenny McCavana (0-01), Lara Dehunsi,Caitlin Taggart (0-01), Cathy Carey (0-03), Aoife Taggart (0-01); Anna Kearney, Anna Finnegan (0-02), Colleen Quinn Subs: Orlaith Prenter (0-01), Emily Falloon (1-00), Eleanor Mallon
Referee: Declan Carolan (Down)
Report by Dermot Woods