Carlow issue statement of intent as Fitzpatrick joins backroom team
CARLOW hurling manager Kevin Ryan has pulled off a major coup by getting Gerry Fitzpatrick to join his backroom team this season.
Fitzpatrick's arrival demonstrates the breadth of Carlow and Ryan's burgeoning ambitions as he was a key member of the Waterford hurlers' coaching crew up to this year.
Fitzpatrick is not only a renowned fitness expert, but, before his hurling involvement, was one of Ireland's leading basketball coaches who managed the Irish senior women's team.
He is also a Waterford IT lecturer in sports psychology, so his broad experience of elite sport at both national and international level will be a huge addition on several levels in what is a huge season for Carlow's hurlers.
Anticipation is great in the county as they already have a guaranteed place at the Liam McCarthy top table next summer.
They are coming off two consecutive Christy Ring Cup victories and it is their second year in a row of Division 2 hurling.
Manager Ryan will not be letting the hype get to them as they battle to hold their own on hurling's notoriously slippery slope.
"It's going to be very hard for us this year because I reckon Division 2 is even tougher now than it was last season," Ryan said.
"There's really not a lot between the top teams in Division 2 and the bottom teams in Division 1."
"Clare and Wexford are obviously going to be very strong, Laois seem to be flying already and we have to travel to Antrim this weekend, which is a trip that troubles most Division 1 teams."
However, Ryan cannot hide his enthusiasm for the relatively unknown team who firmly established themselves in hurling's second division last season and will now be fighting hard to maintain it.
Ryan had already trained legendary Wexford club Oulart-the-Ballagh before he took over Carlow last season from his Mount Sion clubmate Jim Greene, who had already made great progress in his one year in charge.
"Obviously I'd have been watching them from a distance because Jim was involved, but, like a lot of people, I first took note when Carlow reached the Leinster minor final four years ago and followed that with some good Leinster U-21 'A' results," he explained.
"We have a very young team with nearly a dozen U-21 players and I really feel that if we could drive it on with them for the next two years, we have big potential. Maintain our place every year is very important."
Carlow certainly proved they could hold their own in Division 2 last year when they finished fourth after beating Antrim, Down and Westmeath.