Mickey Harte casts Croker again as Louth defeats Limerick to earn the NFL Division 3 title

Mickey Harte’s unique management magic continues to work the Oracle at his favorite home, Croke Park.

When the three-time All-Ireland winner first walked into the Louth dressing room, they were in the middle of the Allianz Football League basement.

Now they’re not solely destined for League Two in 2023, but they’ll have a trophy to celebrate after that impressive comeback win over Limerick in the Division 3 final.

The last time Louth won a final at GAA Headquarters was the Division 4 playoff in 2016. Here, in front of a crowd of 8,092, they looked in real danger as they trailed 10-0, 8-0 behind the Shannonsiders after Peter Nash had scored his second point in the 49th minute, and was substituted immediately.

Skipper Sam Mulroy stabilized Louth with his only point from the game, but the turning point came soon after, in the 53rd minute, all due to a Limerick mix-up in attack.

Dan Corcoran lunged to force the turnover and suddenly Limerick was lying on the counter, completely exposed. Ciarán Byrne went on and passed a hand through to Liam Jackson, who scored just ahead of full-back Brian Fanning.

Jackson was still about 40 yards from goal but there was no defender between him and goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan and he advanced unhindered before placing his shot confidently into the bottom corner.

The sole objective of a hitherto uneventful battle had the effect of energizing Harte’s men and sapping Limerick of all faith.

Three more Louth points followed from a deflected shot from Lionheart midfielder Tommy Durnin, the Livewire Byrne and finally Mulroy, a monster free from 55 yards.

The captain’s fist salute to fans in the Hogan stands indicated what the occasion meant for his team. Just in case you missed that news, Byrne proudly saluted himself after scoring his fourth point from the game and then centre-back Niall Sharkey delivered another punch after advancing towards goal from the right.

Amid all this in-game celebration, Limerick substitute Robbie Bourke converted two stylish frees from the floor – his team’s only goals in an otherwise dreary last quarter. Fittingly, Durnin shot up and grabbed two kickouts from Louth down the stretch, which helped ensure there would be no late drama.

For Harte, that five-point win could serve as the perfect boost ahead of Leinster SFC’s opener against Carlow on April 24. the 2018 All-Ireland against Dublin – but at least this time he had a win to enjoy.


Limerick’s Seán O’Dea in action against Louth’s Liam Jackson during the Allianz Football League Division 3 Final at Croke Park, Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Both teams had already achieved their primary goal from this spring season: promotion to the second division and thus a secure entry into the Sam Maguire.

Whatever damage Harte’s reputation took towards the end of his Red Hand reign, he quickly made amends by earning back-to-back promotions.

Billy Lee’s performance was no less significant, Limerick rising from the ashes in 2019 (when they were ranked 31st out of 32 wards in the league) to achieve promotion in 2020 and again this year.

Louth came to Headquarters in excellent form after winning five times on his way to the top of Division 4. Oddly enough, however, this came after a stuttering start and their season only came alive in the final 15 minutes of round three when they hit an unanswered 0-7 on the University of Limerick’s artificial turf pitch to pass the previously dominant contract men by two points.

Mulroy came into this game as the league’s top scorer in all four divisions, with 3-51 – a staggering 53 percent of Louth’s overall record.

And though Josh Ryan overplayed an early free spin for Limerick, Mulroy was quick in his groove with a sweetly converted “45” from his so-called wrong side.

Byrne, a late replacement for Daire McConnon, looked lively from the start and soon pushed Louth up front.

Two Louth chances followed, barely a minute apart, separated by a point from Adrian Enright on a counterattack for Limerick. First, Mulroy’s deflected shot from close range was intercepted by corner defender Seán O’Dea off his own line; Then Durnin’s snap was widely deflected by fellow corner-back Michael Donovan.

Despite Mulroy effortlessly stroking the resulting ’45’ and Daire Nally then doubling Louth’s lead, Harte’s men continued to stray and failed to disrupt the scoreboard for 20 minutes.

Limerick benefited from the game with a brace from Hugh Bourke and more points from Peter Nash and Donovan to give them a two-goal lead. A late pair of Mulroy tap-over frees pinching Enright’s second left Limerick a narrow 0-7 to 0-6 lead down the middle.

The game was still on the razor’s edge when Jackson’s goal on the break changed everything.

Goalscorers – Louth: S Mulroy 0-6 (2’45s’, 3f), C Byrne 0-4, L Jackson 1-0, D Nally, J Clutterbuck, T Durnin, N Sharkey 0-1 each. Limerick: J Ryan 0-3 (1f), A Enright, H Bourke, P Nash, R Bourke (2f) each 0-2, M Donovan 0-1.

Loud: J Califf; D McKenny, B Duffy, D Corcoran; McKeever C, Sharkey N, Gray L; T Durnin, J Clutterbuck; L Jackson, S Mulroy, C Lennon; Nally D, Downey C, Byrne C. Subtitle: T Jackson for Lennon (inj 25), E Callaghan for Gray (27), C Grimes for Nally (59), C Early for Clutterbuck (66).

Limerick: D O’Sullivan; S O’Dea, B Fanning, M Donovan; C Sheehan, I Corbett, P Maher; D Contract, C Fahy; A Enright, J Naughton, K Ryan; Nash P, Ryan J, Bourke H. Subtitle: R. Childs for Fahy (inj. 17), R. Bourke for Nash (49th), P. de Brún for K. Ryan (51st), J. Liston for J. Ryan (59th), T. McCarthy for Treacy (66th).

Referee: B Griffin (Kerry). Mickey Harte casts Croker again as Louth defeats Limerick to earn the NFL Division 3 title

Fry Electronics Team

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