HomeFootballCan Louth replicate the Dubs’ leap from ‘startled earwigs’ to killer bees?

Can Louth replicate the Dubs’ leap from ‘startled earwigs’ to killer bees?

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As a Dub approaching the end of the noughties, Brennan knew what it meant to suffer in Kerry’s slipstream.

And yet, over the course of 26 months, they were transformed from ‘startled earwigs’ to All-Ireland killer bees – at Jack O’Connor’s expense.

Can Louth make the same quantum leap in the space of 12 months? Brennan isn’t so bold as to make that claim … but that won’t stop him trying.

Last June, under the management of Mickey Harte, Louth were ruthlessly crushed by the Cliffords and company in Portlaoise. The final grisly audit? A 28-point chasm.

​On Sunday, the Munster champions and Leinster runners-up renew battle at the same venue and SFC group juncture; only this time Louth have already qualified for the knockout stages.

Not that Brennan views this as a free shot. He insists that victory over Kerry is the ambition while strongly hinting that Louth may replicate the “pragmatic” approach that frustrated Dublin for long stretches of the Leinster final.

As a player, he knew all about Kerry’s lethal arsenal – albeit he had a watching brief for that infamous All-Ireland quarter-final in 2009, suspended after a Leinster final red card as his comrades were humiliated by 1-24 to 1-7.

Nor did Brennan feature the following February, when a much-changed Dublin bounced back in Killarney, securing a first league victory on Kerry soil since 1982.

But the centre-back was there, on the pitch, for the final chapter of Dublin’s stunning renaissance: the 2011 All-Ireland comeback against Kerry.

It begs the question whether Louth can view Sunday as a chance for atonement, perhaps even a defining game, just like Dublin’s league win in Killarney 14 years ago was later repackaged.

“In 2009, there was the quarter-final that we lost to Kerry by 17 points, that was the startled earwigs comment from Pat Gilroy,” Brennan reflects. “The following year in the National League, it was the first Dublin team to win on Kerry soil since the ‘70s, I think (sic). The guts of 15 months later you’re playing Kerry in an All-Ireland final and we got over the line by one point.”

So it’s a case, he argues, of demystifying counties and “having a cut at them.

“Look, Kerry have obviously earned that respect, that bit of fear … a lot of teams might have them four or five points ahead on the scoreboard before a ball is even thrown in. It’s about trying to break that and once you do it once, all sorts of wonderful things can happen.

“This Louth group has broken so many boundaries,” he expands. “I think they lost to Leitrim or Longford to be relegated to Division 4 (in 2020) and now look at what the lads are doing. And it’s a lot of the same fellas.

“So it’s amazing what a bit of belief, a bit of structure, a bit of experience and getting a few notches on their belt against bigger opposition – which they’re starting to do more and more – can do. All you’re trying to do is close the gap and hopefully break through that glass ceiling.”

This year under Brennan, Louth have closed the Leinster final gap on Dublin from 21 to four points, aided by an ultra-defensive shape with a view to then punish on the counter.

“You’re always trying to be pragmatic. You want to give the group an opportunity to play to their strengths. We mixed and matched tactics throughout the Leinster campaign,” he says, when asked if they’ll adopt a similar approach against Kerry.

​“And if there’s opportunities to squeeze Kerry, we’ll certainly attempt to do it. But also be conscious of Kerry being the aristocrats of GAA, that kicking game that they have … their ability to win primary possession and to get the head up and kick those diagonal or straight-line passes, 30-40 metres.

“That’s something we have to be wary of when we are caught out in possession, further up the field. So, hoping to mix and match and to ask a couple of questions of Kerry.”

There remains a theoretical chance that Monaghan (who face Meath at the same time) could obliterate a 20-point scoring difference gap to leapfrog Louth into second place. But any such permutations chatter won’t cloud Louth’s approach. “We’re looking to win. Momentum is key,” Brennan insists.

“We’re looking to finish first. Louth don’t get to play Kerry too often. We’ve been lucky the last two seasons, regardless of last year’s result. You want to calibrate yourself against the best and Kerry are the best, along with Dublin. It’s a great opportunity.”

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