Dormant Carlow erupt on big stage
Carlow 0-14 Louth 0-13
CARLOW manager Luke Dempsey could be excused for getting slightly carried away with his description of what this victory over 2010 Leinster finalists Louth meant for his players at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise yesterday.
"For Carlow football, a volcano has erupted and we'll just get into Croke Park for a Leinster semi-final which has been a long time coming and go into that match as underdogs to a very good Wexford team.
"But that's irrelevant now. You can just see the joy out there. You'd think we had just won the Leinster final and that's what it means to that group of players," he said.
Such joy. Such happiness. Wonderful to behold. Tears were shed by strong men in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic snatch-and-grab win in injury time by the totally unfancied minnows from Carlow.
The supporters who had travelled could not hide their happiness, albeit tinged by disbelief.
This, after all, was Carlow. The county which last won a Leinster championship match back in 2006. The county which had never previously beaten Louth since they first locked horns in championship fare back in 1915.
More relevant was the internal criticisms and problems with some players who wouldn't give commitment to the county team. In the end, Dempsey went with 26 bravehearts who came to Portlaoise determined to belie their underdog status.
Mind you, when I called them 'minnows' it was in reference to the lack of trophies on the sideboard and their lack of a decent championship run for over five years. You don't call Man of the Match Brendan Murphy a minnow in terms of footballing prowess or stature and Carlow had plenty of big men, big in physicality and big of heart when it most counted yesterday.
This was not a football classic, but for intensity and almost unbearable
tension in the last 15 minutes, the contest raised the blood pressure of the 2,910 spectators to dangerous levels.
Louth -- reduced to 14 men when corner-back Dessie Finnegan was sent off for a trip on an opponent just before half-time -- made life difficult for themselves. They started slowly, allowing Carlow to gain in confidence, and did not display the raw hunger expected of a team with a Leinster final in their sights. At half-time, they were 0-5 to 0-8 down but a gritty second-half rally by the fighting 14 brought Louth level on 0-8 each after 41 minutes.
Points were swapped by both sides but once Shane Lennon put the Wee County ahead by 0-10 to 0-9 in the 51st minute, the red tide was flowing towards the Carlow goal and it seemed unstoppable. Just 10 minutes of normal time were left when Louth led by 0-13 to 0-10. Surely it was all over for Carlow? Same old story, we thought.
But we were wrong. Brendan Murphy walloped a point over from a sideline kick 40 metres out in the 62nd minute, and it proved to be more than a futile act of defiance. Possession was crucial, and nobody needed to tell those Carlow and Louth players.
They scrapped with desperation, untidily, and frantically for the football but Carlow dialled 'M for Murphy' and came up with the right numbers where it counted -- on the scorebaord.
Brian Murphy, Brendan's brother, hacked over a point in the 68th minute. Now just a point down. Agony for full forward Sean Gannon -- he missed a good chance of an equaliser. A minute later, corner-forward Daniel St Ledger did level the sides at 0-13 each with a vital point from a free, and then, in injury time, with the final whistle sure to be blown, Paul Cashin and John Paul Moore combined to give Brendan Murphy a last shot at goal.
The man-mountain just crushed it between the points for the winner. Awesome moment for Carlow football. A shock to the core for Louth.
Brendan and Brian Murphy, Dan St Ledger, Thomas Walsh, Darragh Foley, championship debutant full-back Conor Lawlor, skipper Shane Redmond, left half-back Kieran Nolan produced the goods when required, but above all this was a triumph for defiant team spirit among the whole 26-strong Carlow panel.
Louth's Paddy Keenan was immense, with Brian Donnelly, Shane Lennon, Ray Finnegan, Aaron Hoey and Michael Fanning also strong for the Wee men, but the reds didn't do enough for long enough to kill off Carlow when they had the chance.
As for the 13 yellows and one red card in the match, players have to look at themselves before blaming the referee. For example, Louth's Dessie Finnegan got his first yellow for a spot of wrestling with Carlow full-forward Sean Gannon. When the ball came back their way, both men broke off the tussle to go play football. Nothing malicious, but they were caught in the act, and that first yellow always puts a player in danger of a second one.
Louth boss Peter Fitzpatrick felt Finnegan was unlucky to be sent off, but said: "To me I've no complaints at all. I thought it was a good clean game.
"I thought Dessie was very unlucky to get sent off but I'm not going to blame that for the defeat. We were three points up with ten minutes to go, and we just couldn't hold it. All we needed was a wee bit of composure."
Scorers -- Carlow: D St Ledger 0-4 (3f); Brendan Murphy 0-3; Brian Murphy 0-2 (1f); D Foley 0-2 (2f); P Hickey, S Gannon, E Finnegan 0-1 each.
Louth: S Lennon 0-6 (3f); P Keenan 0-2; D Reid, B Donnelly, D Maguire, D Crilly, R Carroll 0-1 each.
Carlow -- T O'Reilly 7; A Murphy 7, C Lawlor 7, B Kavanagh 7; P Cashin 7, S Redmond 7, K Nolan 7; Brendan Murphy 9, D Foley 8; P Hickey 7, T Walsh 7, E Finnegan 7; Brian Murphy 8, S Gannon 7, D St Ledger 7. Subs: P Murphy 7 for B Cavanagh (54), C Mullins 6 for E Finnegan (60), J Murphy 6 for D Foley (63), E Ruth 6 for P Hickey (67).
Louth -- S Connor 7; D Byrne 6, A Hoey 7, D Finnegan 5; R Finnegan 7, M Fanning 6, L Shevlin 6; P Keenan 8, B Donnelly 7; D Crilly 7, D Reid 6, A Reid 6; D Maguire 6, S Lennon 7, JP Rooney 6. Subs: A McDonnell 6 for JP Rooney (h-t), R Carroll 6 for D Reid (h-t), P Smith 6 for A McDonnell (62), S Fitzpatrick for D Crilly (71).
Ref -- D Fahy (Longford).