With Louth flying high in Division 4 and assured of a place in the League Final with two rounds of regular league games remaining, there was understandable disappointment when the coronavirus restrictions brought an abrupt halt to all sporting activities.
Had things gone to plan, unbeaten Louth would be preparing for a final showdown this weekend in front of the TG4 cameras. Instead sport is suspended and the LGFA’s announcement that his season’s National League was being declared null and void, ended the hopes of Wayne Freeman’s side going up.
Louth had high hopes of getting out of the basement division for the first time since being relegated in 2006 after suffering a shock defeat to Antrim at the semi-final stage 12 months ago. They recovered brilliantly from that setback to take the Leinster and All-Ireland in some style.
After a convincing win over Antrim, Louth beat Leitrim and Limerick before crushing Derry . Winning creates a feel good factor in any set-up and great credit must go to the managerial duo of Wayne Freeman and Lee Hunt for developing positive vibes in the Louth camp with an approach which combines empathy and professionalism.
Freeman an employee of Iarnod Eireann is the youngest manager in adult inter-county gaelic football anywhere in Ireland and has formed a very effective and complementary partnership with the affable Dublin native Hunt. Both are members of Monasterevin GAA club with the duo coming together to pitch for the Louth job last October and since then have embraced the challenge with enthusiasm and dedication.
Although Louth have struggled to get promotion from the basement league in over a decade they have strong structures at underage and that conveyor belt of young talent means they have a low average age, albeit backboned by experienced players like (skipper) Aoife Byrne, Michelle McMahon and Sarah Quinn.
The disruption to the LGFA season is particularly difficult to any county with a new manager. Louth, with Wayne Freeman at the helm, were poised to secure a place in this weekend’s Division Four League final when a halt was called to the campaign last month.
There is no doubt they were going well and hopefully that will continue when we get playing again but for now the priority is on everyone’s health. It’s not easy for any manager or the players, but especially for managers like that in their first year. They would have been expecting to be preparing for something else entirely in April and not this shutdown.
The big thing for all concerned is when are we going to get the chance to perform and will Louth be prepared if the Championship gets the go-ahead? Wee County manager Wayne Freeman believes his side will be ready.
“It may be possible, obviously the safety of everyone involved is the first priority, but, we would love to see football played at some stage year. We all miss it and would be open to any system that would allow us get back playing the sport we all love.
“It’s a case of getting together a little bit before to sharpen up. All our players pride themselves in being fit and have a natural love of been active, so I don’t see fitness ever being an issue with our group. They love training and pushing themselves,” he explained.
The Monasterevin clubman is clearly very happy with the squad he has assembled despite losing a number of players from last year’s All-Ireland winning team including star forward Kate Flood
“I think we have a great group. We as a management absolutely love working with them. I think is everyone is enjoying being involved. Yes, the squad is young and very talented, but, there is always room for growth and improvement. I think that’s one thing I really admire about them it’s their constant drive to improve.
“I believe massively in the players abilities. Results always take care of themselves when you prepare properly. We have talent, but, we always bring a huge work rate and prepare very well for games. The talent aturally comes out then,” continued the manager.
At just 25 Wayne is the youngest inter-county manager in LGFA or GAA in Ireland but is it always something he wanted to do?
“I think I always had eye on coaching, and doing it when I finished up playing. I didn’t expect it this early, but, I just love the sport and the coaching side brings a total different outlook on the game. I have been managed by some top coaches where their training was just top class. I always enjoyed the way they built a team ethos.
“For example in 2012 when we won the championship with my club, the unity that the players had to play for each other was incredible. It’s great to be involved in that environment and it is definitely something we think we have in our group.
“Myself and Lee (Hunt) very much see eye-to-eye in our philosophy in creating a positive environment. We always want that open and honest mentality and players to feel comfortable with communicating with us. What we look for a pursuit of every player playing to the best of their ability, and most importantly enjoying playing for Louth.
“We love to have a laugh at training too, and we have some great characters amongst the group that would have us in hysterics of laughter,” concluded Wayne.
(Photos by Warren Matthews)