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Dempsey doubts Thomas an issue

CARLOW boss Luke Dempsey is adamant that local derby sparks won't fly when Thomas Walsh makes his big-match return for his native county against old Wicklow colleagues.

And Dempsey is even more insistent that Carlow's red card travails during the NFL won't return to haunt them in this Sunday's Leinster SFC collision at Portlaoise (3.30).

Walsh's 2007 switch to the Garden County caused plenty of national controversy as well as acrimony back home. But the former Leinster midfielder was coaxed back to the Carlow camp last month -- clearly not fazed by the prospect that this would mean a resumption of his inter-county career against Wicklow, of all teams, on May 16.

However, Dempsey insists that the so-called 'Walsh factor' won't have any intensified bearing on the rivalry that already exists between these bordering counties.

"None whatsoever," he told the Evening Herald. "It has been so talked about that it's worn out at this stage. The reality is that it's a Championship match between two local teams, and it doesn't matter who Thomas Walsh is playing for -- it is winner takes all and moves on to play Westmeath on June 6."

But this same rivalry has some locals fearing that indiscipline will conspire against the Barrowsiders.

At the end of the league Carlow finished second bottom in the GAA's Fair Play Index, having accumulated 38 yellows and two straight reds, while they had two players sent off in the games against Wicklow, Clare and Leitrim. And now for the added intensity of Championship -- against neighbouring foes, to boot.

Yet Dempsey maintained: "We're a team that is entirely disciplined. It was a sort of a chain reaction. When you see a league brought in for discipline -- for me, it was a token effort. And when you see Kilkenny (almost) winning the fair play division ...

"No, it's not a worry. The players being sent off were for a lot of technical reasons, which we have tidied up a great deal since," he continued. "I'm absolutely confident, and you'll find that out on Sunday when you see the results. We really have worked on it.

"It's starting off a new competition. There was this business where we had two players sent off, nearly consecutively -- and it was laughable, some of the sendings-off, to be quite honest with you."

Of more pressing concern to Dempsey is a lengthy injury list that rules out Daniel St Ledger (broken finger), JJ Smith (torn knee cartilage), Eric McCormack (groin) and Willie Minchin (facing six months out after suffering a double arm break in London). Ledger and Smith will at least tog out on Sunday whereas McCormack may even miss the Westmeath game if Carlow cause a weekend upset.

Meanwhile, a final decision on John Murphy's hamstring injury is likely to be delayed until Sunday morning while Shane Redmond is just back from a similar complaint.

"I'm a little bit worried about the number of injuries to our forwards, in particular," Dempsey admitted.

"But having said that, our preparations have gone much better than last year. We've also gained a couple through the return of Brendan Murphy from Australia and Thomas Walsh from Wicklow.

"I'm looking forward to see how a new, committed panel fare out against a Wicklow team that impressed greatly last summer through the qualifiers. One thing I'm very pleased about is the commitment of the panel -- a larger panel than last year, where everybody stuck by it," he concluded.