Dempsey ready for 'exciting' Dubs test
CARLOW manager Luke Dempsey insists there is "plenty to build on" as his side prepare to open their campaign with the visit of All-Ireland champions Dublin on Sunday.
A first Leinster semi-final appearance since 1958 -- thanks to a surprise win over Louth -- marked 2011 out as a decent season for the Barrowsiders, and Dempsey is confident that result can provide a springboard.
"We have 21 of last year's panel back plus a few new lads, some of whom have been involved in Carlow squads before," he said. "We had a white collar boxing night among members of the panel before Christmas and they seemed to enjoy it, so they're looking forward to the new season.
"Every year they come back, they are a year older and stronger and better able for inter-county football. And they are learning all the time -- they showed that last year."
Dempsey credited the five-week run into the Louth match as one of the main reasons behind their victory. Carlow avoided the preliminary-round draw in 2011, going directly into a quarter-final, and it's a similar occasion this year, with Dempsey's men down to face the winners of Wicklow and Meath on June 10.
"We are often out in the preliminary round, but we had an extra couple of weeks to prepare last year. We had a training camp in Johnstown House and that helped us enormously and I knew then we were ready for it, so I wasn't surprised at the result at all," said Dempsey.
The unfamiliar surrounds of Croke Park, and a rampant Wexford team, ended their interest in Leinster but they ran Antrim to a point at Casement Park in the qualifiers, despite being reduced to 14 men.
And while Tommy Walsh will spend the next year in the United States, Dempsey is confident the Fenagh man can be replaced.
Derek Hayden has returned from a broken leg suffered last year, John Murphy is fit again after cruciate knee ligament damage and Paul Reid, who last featured for the county under Paul Bealin, has been coaxed back.
Only Pat Hickey and Willie Minchin look set to miss the opening rounds of the National League through injury, and they are expected to resume training next month.
"Tommy is a loss but by the end of last year he had slipped out of the starting team, so we have lads putting pressure on the starters and we have some good new additions like Cathal Coughlan, Con Murphy, David Mulvany and Barry Lambe.
"We have a couple of games in the O'Byrne Cup to see how the new lads fit into the squad and then it's into a Division 4 campaign and we'll be trying to get promoted, though it's one of the most competitive divisions. You have Limerick and Waterford coming down, so we'll need to hit the ground running.
"We have Anthony Rainbow on board this year as well: his enthusiasm and commitment to Kildare as a player were legendary, and he has brought that to Carlow as well. He sets a great example for our players and that has rubbed off on them."
With Bernard Brogan away travelling and 15 of the All-Ireland-winning squad tied to their colleges, the Barrowsiders are likely to face an unfamiliar looking Dublin side.
With only centre-back Shane Redmond absent due to commitments to UCD, Carlow should have close to a full hand, including International Rules star Brendan Murphy.
"It's the start of the season for us and it adds a bit of excitement that it's Dublin and the All-Ireland champions. We'll have some idea of where we stand heading into the league come Sunday evening," said Dempsey.
Meanwhile, new Leitrim bosses Barney Breen and George Dugdale, who have already lost four defenders to emigration, have been dealt another blow before Sunday's FBD League season-opener against Mayo in Ballyhaunis.
Free-taking ace Emlyn Mulligan is their latest loss, as he needs knee surgery.
Mulligan's inter-county career was previously stalled by ruptured cruciate ligaments in both his knees. He finally got back on track last summer, but now he has a cartilage problem and it looks like he will miss the early stages of the league.
Leitrim have lost Dermot Reynolds, Shane Foley and Ronan Gallagher to emigration, and have Brian McDonald and Conor Kelly already on their injured list.
And they'll also be without college-tied Adrian Croal, Kevin Conlon, Shane Moran, Sean McWeeney and Conor Kelly for the duration of the FBD League.