100 not out for Carroll
ONLY Aidan O'Rourke knows if Ronan Carroll will feature in Saturday's All-Ireland Qualifier against Antrim, but despite not making the first XV, the Ardee man looks destined to make his 100th appearance for the Reds at some stage at the Gaelic Grounds.
Former Louth boss, and avid statistician, Paddy Clarke also revealed this week that the St Mary's man needs just three points to bring his inter-county scoring tally to 100, so a starting jersey would certainly help in achieving what would be a remarkable double ton.
'I didn't realise that, you can rely on Paddy for the stats,' says Carroll. 'Obviously it's an achievement, but it would be even better if I could get a start. I haven't scored too many this year, but hopefully I'll get a few chances on Saturday, and in the future - it's good to know.'
Far from sulking over falling out of favour, Carroll sees his current predicament as a fresh challenge and insists it's a sign that Louth football is in rude health under O'Rourke.
That said, Andy McDonnell's departure to the US and John O'Brien's suspension has opened up two doors, and there could be more places up for grabs in the wake of the Leinster quarter-final defeat to Wexford.
'It just shows how competitive the squad and the team is this year with everybody fighting for places,' Carroll continues. 'There'll be five or six lads thinking they can come in to fill the two boys' places and I suppose the starting fifteen from the last two games wouldn't be guaranteed to start either.
'It can be frustrating, but I've been featuring in most games and that's a role I'm prepared to fill if it means I can make an impact.
'All you can do is keep the head down and train hard, and it's showing in training because the sessions are as hard as any championship game at the minute.'
Watching from the sidelines until the closing stages, Carroll wasn't too despondent after the Wexford defeat and, while it was a far cry from the exhilirating performance against Laois, he feels the Reds are still moving in the right direction.
'There was a great buzz before the Laois game and obviously that carried through to the Wexford game too, but I felt it was just a few little things that didn't work out for us. They got a very fortunate goal and a few other things didn't go our way, but everyone has re-grouped and is working as hard as ever.'
Crucially, Carroll feels the usual lull that comes between the Leinster Championship and Qualifiers hasn't reared its ugly head this year.
'Nothing has really changed to be honest. In previous years lads would have been missing and it was a struggle to go training, but everyone is still giving 100% this year and I suppose that's down to the set-up at the minute. Everybody wants to be involved because we feel we can get a run going and progress a bit further.
'I don't think we did ourselves justice against Wexford, but a run in the Qualifiers can make up for that. I remember a few years ago when we went to the last 12 and were only beaten by two points by Cork, who went on to the All-Ireland final that year. And you've seen other teams like Sligo and Fermanagh go far in the Qualifiers too, so there's no reason why we can't do that this year.'
On paper the first obstacle doesn't appear all that daunting at first glance, but Carroll knows from his vast experience that underestimating Antrim could be Louth's downfall.
'Last time we played Antrim they gave us an awful hiding up in Casement and I know they might have gone back a bit since then, but they still have some quality players and some very good forwards.
'I remember from that game they were very strong around the middle and they had a very good gameplan.
'We just have to approach it like any other game, because if we go into it thinking we'll win easy, we'll be beaten.
'I suppose the draw could have been worse. You had Tyrone and Derry in there and a few other Division 2 teams, so maybe it's better to get a team we haven't played in a while.'