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Friday, June 2, 2023

Louth were abysmal in Leinster final defeat to Dublin – and Cork will inflict more pain on Mickey Harte in All-Ireland

THE pilot episode of the new Sam Maguire series did not let us down.

From the ambushing of the All-Ireland champions in Killarney to Donegal’s siege of Ennis, there was no shortage of interesting storylines.

Louth were hammered by 21 points against Dublin in the Leinster football final


Louth were hammered by 21 points against Dublin in the Leinster football finalCredit: Sportsfile
And they get their All-Ireland SFC underway against Cork


And they get their All-Ireland SFC underway against CorkCredit: Sportsfile

And with four more games down for decision this weekend, here’s hoping that there will be plenty more to keep the viewers engaged.

The next instalment begins today with Cork making the long journey to my own neck of the woods to take on Louth at Páirc Tailteann in Navan.

If you make an exception for their games against the Dubs, Louth’s form so far this year would seem to indicate that they will really fancy themselves to overcome Cork.

This has the makings of a cracking game and the likelihood is that it will determine who qualifies from Group 1 in third place.

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There is no getting away from the fact that Louth had a fairly abysmal Leinster final. While I did not see them getting the better of the Dubs, I certainly expected the game to be much closer.

Losing by 21 points, even against a team of Dublin’s quality, was a reality check for them.

They will be desperate to bounce back and show they are better than what that game suggested.

Going toe-to-toe with Dessie Farrell’s side was a big mistake that really backfired. Louth got a lot wrong tactically on the day and you would assume that there were plenty of lessons learned.

I am sure Mickey Harte took a lot from the experience that will benefit them going forward.

Losing to Clare in their Munster quarter-final would have been a big blow for Cork because there was a bit of momentum about them after some decent displays in Division 2. The seven-week break is sure to have given John Cleary and his management a good opportunity to address the areas that needed improving.

After a bad start against Meath, Cork were going well in the NFL until Louth caught them on the hop in Ardee.

And the Wee County have improved considerably since they went down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh last summer and lost by four points in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

But Cork still look like a stronger outfit overall. And, crucially, they probably have a bit more firepower as well.

There were times during the NFL — such as in their narrow defeat to Dublin — when Cork showed the potential to trouble the big teams once they hit top form.

And following the disappointment they endured in Ennis, the Rebels will be very eager to make the most of this opportunity.

If Cork get out of Navan with a win, it will set up a very interesting showdown with old rivals Kerry on Leeside next weekend. And I believe that they will.

For all the improvements they have made, I find it very hard to argue in favour of a Louth victory.

I would also fear for Westmeath going up to the Athletic Grounds this afternoon. Armagh will be a wounded animal after going so close to ending their 15-year wait for an Ulster title. And the Lake County could bear the brunt of a serious backlash from Kieran McGeeney’s men.

Although they came into this year boosted by their Tailteann Cup success, Westmeath’s performances have been poor up to now. It is difficult to identify areas where they could give Armagh any bother whatsoever.

Armagh are a team that I have been monitoring in recent years as they have been trending in the right direction. They will not encounter any major problems in getting over Westmeath.

We will probably find out more about the Orchard County when they face Galway and Tyrone.

Four weeks since they were put to the sword by Derry in their Ulster semi-final, Monaghan have a chance to make amends against the same opposition this evening.

But doing so in Celtic Park will be an enormous task.

I’m sure they have used their time wisely to pinpoint what went wrong for them the last day.

Whether they are capable of making the necessary adjustments remains to be seen. Derry are set up so well that breaking them down is easier said than done.

Despite all the off-field turbulence in the build-up to the Ulster final, Derry looked like a well-oiled machine. Rory Gallagher may have moved on but you would trust the remaining management to maintain the standards and make sure that the same plan continues to function.

In terms of Derry’s chances of going all the way, they probably still lack the prowess up front that is needed.

To me, they look like a team who are still one or two players shy of being capable of winning the ultimate prize.

But they should certainly have enough to get over Monaghan.

Tomorrow’s only game sees Dublin take on Roscommon at Croke Park.

Roscommon proved against Mayo that they are a very difficult team to play against. They work extremely hard and they seem to be very well-drilled.

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And while they could definitely make life difficult for the Leinster champions, the Rossies’ lack of strength in depth is probably what separates them from the top teams.

The challenges that will reveal whether Dublin are serious contenders are still a few weeks away.

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