The Ulster Championship stumbled into action with a somewhat unexpected win for Fermanagh over a misfiring Down side at Brewster Park, while Louth needed to use all their guile and experience to get past Carlow in Leinster.
Ulster SFC First Round: Fermanagh 0-13 Down 0-10
True, the Erne men were provincial finalists last season, true, they played in a higher league division than the Mourne men this season.
But this was a game that Down were expected to win, such was the perceived progress made by the respective counties this term.
Fermanagh had big-hearted players who weren’t afraid to show their passion and desire, and in this regard they played their opponents off the park.
Down were a side bereft of direction and strategy, and the manner in which they lost their way in the second half will be a huge worry to manager Ross Carr as he prepares for a trip down Qualifier lane.
Fermanagh made a bright start with points from wing back Tommy McElroy and midfielder James Sherry, both quality efforts from distance.
But the Mourne men were ahead by the 11th minute, when Aidan Carr converted two frees either side of a Benny Coulter point.
A game that was struggling to settle into any kind of pattern swung back in Fermanagh’s favor, with Mark Little edging them back in front.
But the lead continued to change hands, Paul McComiskey regaining the advantage, before debutant Daryl Keenan brought the Erne men level.
Fermanagh goalkeeper Chris Breen had to scramble to keep out an innocuous effort from Declan Rooney which dipped towards the far post, but that was as close as either side came to crafting a first half goal.
The home side countered immediately to go back in front through Ryan Carson, but in stoppage time, Stephen Kearney brought the sides level for the sixth time, turning around at 0-7 each.
A renewed flourish in the early stages of the second half saw Down open up a two points lead with the help of a Coulter special, curled beautifully between the posts from way out left.
But solid defending from Shane Lyons and Shane McDermott helped Fermanagh survive a difficult period, and two frees from Carson had them level before McElroy shot them back in front.
Carson tapped over another couple of frees, and there was little resistance from Down, even less sign of a revival that would rescue their title bid.
And they limped out of the Ulster Championship with just 14 men on the field, Carr sent
Fermanagh Scorers: T McElroy (0-1), M McGrath (0-1), J Sherry (0-2), C McElroy (0-1), M Little (0-1), D Keenan (0-1), R Carson (0-6, 0-5f).
Down Scorers: P Fitzpatrick (0-1), A Carr (0-2, 0-2f), B Coulter (0-2), S Kearney (0-1), D Hughes (0-2), P McComiskey (0-2,0-1f).
Fermanagh: C Breen, N Bogue, S Lyons, H Brady, R McCluskey, S McDermott, T McElroy (0-1), M McGrath (0-1), J Sherry (0-2), R Keenan, C McElroy (0-1), M Little (0-1), D Keenan (0-1), R Carson (0-6,0-5f), E Maguire.
Subs: P Sherry for McCluskey (HT), S O’Brien for Little (56’), R Foy for C McElroy (71’).
Down: B McVeigh, L Howard, P Turley, D Rafferty, K Duffin, C Garvey, D Rooney, D Gordon, P Fitzpatrick (0-1), A Carr (0-2, 0-2f), B Coulter (0-2), S Kearney (0-1), D Hughes (0-2), R Murtagh, P McComiskey (0-2,0-1f).
Subs: J O’Reilly for Murtagh (52’), J Boyle for Kearney (60’), C Maginn for Fitzpatrick (67’)
Referee: J Bannon (Longford).
Leinster SFC First Round: Louth 1-13 Carlow 1-11
Having edged five points clear in the closing stages a goal from Carlow substitute Simon Rea gave Louth a real fright, but they eventually survived, and will face Laois in a provincial quarter final on June 14.
Carlow were plucky throughout the contest, but Louth just had more craft as all their attackers registered scores, while excellent midfield duo Brian White and Paddy Keenan also contributed handsomely.
Early on Louth offered interesting glimpses of their ability as midfielders White and Keenan motored smoothly. Both were capable of covering the ground and a decent Louth forward unit were being afforded sufficient possession to demonstrate their skill in difficult conditions.
Louth were moving the ball swiftly, and within 16 minutes all three inside forwards Colm Judge, Shane Lennon, and Darren Clarke had kicked tidy points.
But Carlow were gritty too as Eric McCormack rifled over frees with crisp accuracy, but Louth seized the initiative in the 17th minute courtesy of a Raymond Finnegan goal.
That a poor kick out from Carlow custodian James Clarke gifted Louth the opportunity merely added to Luke Dempsey’s charges disappointment.
Clarke’s weak delivery put Barry English under severe pressure, and Ronan Carroll and Darren Clarke crated the chance for willing wing forward Finnegan, who crashed home an opportunistic major.
Two further points from the similarly effective David Reid and Clarke increased Louth’s advantage, but McCormack and Shane Myers reduced the deficit before the break as the favorites trotted off 1-5 to 0-5 ahead at the interval.
And it was a similar story after the restart as Carlow continued to battle with trademark enthusiasm, but Louth were able to nick points as Clarke and Ronan Carroll were efficient.
The Carlow cause was scarcely aided by the 56th minute dismissal of Derek Hayden, who was sent off for a second yellow card for dissent. Immediately after that incident Louth pulled clear before Carlow responded with a brave rally.
Rea smashed a blistering goal to leave only two between the teams, but sufficient Louth damage had been inflicted. Carlow left Donnycarney heartened by their spirited showing, while Louth took satisfaction from the result that booked a craved date with Laois next month.
Louth Scorers: R Finnegan (1-1), D Clarke (0-4, 1f), R Carroll (0-2), D Reid (0-1), B White (0-1), P Keenan (0-1), C Judge (0-1), S Lennon (0-1), JP Rooney (0-1).
Carlow Scorers: E McCormack (0-7, 6fs), S Rea (1-0), D St Ledger (0-1), S Myers (0-1), K Nolan (0-1), M Carpenter (0-1).
Louth: S Reynolds; P Rath, D Finnegan, J O’Brien; D Crilly, M Fanning, G Hoey; B White, P Keenan; R Finnegan, R Carroll, D Reid; C Judge, S Lennon, D Clarke. Subs: JP Rooney for Judge (50’), A Reid for D Reid (63’), P Smith for Lennon (66’).
Carlow: J Clarke; S Myers, J Hayden, K Nolan; S Gannon, B English, S Redmond; J Murphy, W Minchin; B Murphy, D Hayden, JJ Smith; E McCormack, D St Ledger, M Carpenter. Subs: S Rea for Minchin (36 mins), D Phelan for Smith (47’), D Molloy for Murphy (61’), J Kavanagh for Carpenter (64’), V Kavanagh for Gannon (64’).
Referee: P Fox (Westmeath).