John Mitchels’ 2017 campaign plumbed new depths on Friday night as they bowed out of the Louth GAA Anglo Printers Junior Football Championship – put to the sword by perennial whipping boys Wolfe Tones and losing 2-14 to 1-06 in Louth Village.
Mikey Nulty’s goal inside eight minutes got the Mitchels off to a good start but that was as good as it got. It was the only time in the game they were in front and trailing by five points at the break, they never looked likely of closing that gap. It only grew as the match wore on. As poor as the Mitchels were, this young Wolfe Tones team has more about them than many would care to think.
The Mitchels championship campaign had been feast, then famine. A big win over Sean McDermotts two weeks ago heightened hopes of a shock Mitchels appearance in the last eight. Those ideas were tempered six days later when the Westerns put the Ballybailie men to the sword in Stabannon. There are ways to lose a game – and the Mitchels hardly did it the right way. They were never in the match. It was all too similar last night.
Nevertheless, they arrived in Louth Village knowing that a win would give them more than a fighting chance of qualification. They took to the field seeking the victory they needed, but knew they required a favour from the Westerns against the Seans in the other game taking place two miles away. The favour arrived, but they didn’t care take of their own business.
The Wolfe Tones, Division 5 fodder these days, were pointless after two games but surprised many with their sprightly performances in their previous two outings. Expectations of a one-sided encounter between the Drogheda men and the Mitchels looked like they might be wide of the mark.
Two early scores got them off to a strong start before Nulty found the net. He capitalised on a defensive mix-up to direct the ball past Chris Eustace. Robbie Coyle’s point followed soon after but the Tones were economical in front of the posts. They added points through Chris Cudden, Jordan Duffy and Barry Reilly. A quickfire brace of points from the impressive Duffy made it 1-01 to 0-07.
The Tones were using the wind well and on 26 minutes, they extended that lead further. The impressive half forward Niall Smith grabbed a goal – their first of the Championship which left the scores 1-02 to 1-08. Duffy and Reilly added two more points before Aaron Keely (free) and a nice worked point by Conor Reilly reduced the Mitchels’ arrears just as referee Peter Hoey blew the half time whistle.
The less said about the second half, the better – from a Mitchels perspective. The Mitchels, missing captain Emmett Farrell in defence through injury, were dragged around the pitch by the Drogheda youngsters. The Tones didn’t capitulate playing against the wind either, on the contrary they excelled with little resistance from a clearly frustrated opposition.
Hugh Diamond and Gerry Gallagher watched their side get thoroughly outplayed. When Niall Smith scored his second goal – well finished across keeper David Anderson – 15 minutes into the second half it was game over. 2-12 to 1-05.
The Mitchels two second half scores came from the boots of Coyle and Ben O’Brien. Louth Minor John Gallagher was togged out and available, but he didn’t make it onto the field despite his obvious enthusiasm. The Tones can come away from this month reflecting on three very respectable performances and a first win. Martin Smith will pray that going forward he hangs onto young stars like Patrick Fanning and his namesake Niall Smith.
For the Mitchels, their impressive 2014 and 2015 Championship campaigns are a distant memory. Despite some encouraging performances from Alan Mackin and Robbie Coyle, the team will hugely disappointed with its Championship performance after the highs of round one. It’s back to the bread-and-butter of the relegation battle for them. This Championship exit will leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
JOHN MITCHELS: David Anderson, Mitchel Keenan, Connall Keenan, Aaron Kane, Anthony Coyle, Stephen Coyle, James Clarke, Neil Reilly, Brendan McDonnell, Aaron Keely (0-1), Conor Reilly (0-1), Ben O’Brien (0-1), Mikey Nulty (1-0), Robbie Coyle (0-3), Barry Kirk.
Subs: Sam Bingham, Rory Durnin, John Gallagher, Emmett Farrell, Davy Durnin.
REFEREE: Peter Hoey