Struggling Carlow facing uphill battle against Meath
TWO years ago Carlow's footballers were regarded as no-hopers against Meath, yet a late goal from JJ Smith earned a replay that no one expected.
Expectations are even lower for tomorrow's Leinster quarter-final against Meath, and with good reason.
In 2012, Carlow even had two men sent off in the dying minutes before Smith's late intervention, but the man who did most damage was Brendan Murphy. That their former U-21 star and ex-Aussie Rules player is not part of their panel tomorrow is surprising.
He withdrew from the panel before the league because he had applied for a tour of duty with the Irish army which was due to depart in May.
But he didn't go to Lebanon, and is still at home, so it is puzzling that the county's best footballer has not since returned, however belatedly.
Without him the wheels came off in the league. Carlow finished last in Division 4 where they won just one game (against Antrim) and drew another (with London).
Murphy has not been their only loss as they start against Meath with just three players – Daniel St Ledger, Brendan Kavanagh and Darragh Foley – from their 2012 starters.
Anthony Rainbow's recruitment of rugby star Sean O'Brien to their back room during his injury lay-off has been the biggest Carlow headline this year.
It is rumoured that the 'Tullow Tank' will be listed as their 'trainer' in tomorrow's programme yet some believe that Turlough O'Brien was a far more influential addition to their staff.
The ex-Eire Og coach – who has two sons on the panel – is highly regarded locally as both a coach and a motivator.
The harsh facts are that Carlow haven't won a championship match since beating Louth in 2011. They face a side who, despite some heavy injuries recently, were third in Division 2 this year and reached a Leinster final last season.
Carlow lost that 2012 Leinster quarter-final replay by 15 points, but that draw showed what they could do with their best players on board and some serious focus. Shane Mernagh has returned to start at full-back and, of their newer names, Paul Broderick is regarded as a classy forward.
Given the way they've been written off there has to be a kick in them, but the county's perennial inability to get their best 15 out appears to be an ongoing problem.