Heartbreak for hurlers as Carlow strike back
Joe McDonagh Cup Round 1: Carlow 0-21 Kerry 0-18
Kerry's hurlers will be very much on the back foot going into this Sunday's contest against Laois at Austin Stack Park, after a late burst of scores from Carlow snatched two points away from a valiant Kingdom side last Sunday afternoon.
Antrim and Westmeath set the tone on Saturday by recording away wins at the expense of Meath and Laois respectively, and Kerry came within five minutes of extending that run of success for road teams, as they went 0-18 to 0-16 in front through Padraig Boyle's '65 in the 65th minute.
At that stage Carlow had six players yellow carded and all the momentum was with the men in green and gold, who had conceded just five points in the half an hour of hurling that preceded that dead ball score from the Ballyduff man.
By that stage of the contest, James Doyle was starved of supply, his fellow inside forwards Denis Murphy and Chris Nolan were taken off, and with the exception of rangy wing-forward Edward Byrne, the rest of the Carlow team had posted three points between them all, one of which was a long range free.
However, Kerry never quite got to grips with Byrne, who was a totemic presence in the Carlow half forward line in those closing stages. By this stage Kerry were effectively double-teaming the big Mount Leinster Rangers man, and still he was able to leap into the air, pull down the next puck-out with an outstretched paw and fire the sliothar over the crossbar from 55 metres out, under the shadow of the stand.
It was a score of magnificent simplicity, it drew a roar from the home supporters that raised the roof of the compact Leinster stadium, and it inspired four of his colleagues to come good with late points that sealed the win for Carlow.
It could have been very different. In the early stages both sides produced some scintillating hurling, sharing ten points equally in the first eleven minutes of play. Of course, like a pair of Guineas horses who had exploded out of the traps and sprinted through the first half mile of the Derby trip, they ran out of breath and the rest of the first half was patchy.
Occasional moments of brilliance punctuated steady spells of up tempo, error-ridden hurling. Wexford referee James Heffernan looked to keep strict control of the contest and frees were crucial to both sides, while the main theme was Carlow's inability to convert their goal chances, albeit missing out due to crucial interventions from Martin Stackpoole and Bryan Murphy at various stages.
Stackpoole saved a Chris Nolan effort brilliantly in first half injury time and, while Edward Byrne snaffled up the loose ball and fired it over the bar to give the home side an 0-10 to 0-9 interval lead, the contest was very much in the balance at that stage.
Carlow made it 0-13 to 0-10 by the 45 minute mark as they seemed to find a higher gear after the break, but instead it was Kerry who took control of the tie from that point on, powered by some dominant play from their defensive sextet.
Bryan Murphy picked up some crucial turnovers, Sean Weir burst out of the full back line like a man possessed on a few occasions, while Daniel Collins, who started at wing back despite wearing number six, moved into the centre and began to rule the skies with some imperious aerial play.
Jack Goulding sliced over a sideline cut with the sort of deft stroke one might expect from Paul Cézanne or Edgar Degas, while Kerry's general effervescence on the ball created dead ball opportunities that, with one exception, were fired over by Shane Conway.
The Kingdom laid the foundations for victory, and with every point, they appeared to add yet more blocks to their construction - until Carlow took a wrecking ball to it all with their devastating finish.
CARLOW: Brian Tracey; Alan Corcoran, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Richard Coady, David English (0-1f), Richard Kelly; Jack Kavanagh (0-1), Kevin McDonald (0-2); Jack Murphy, Paul Coady (0-1), Edward Byrne (0-4); James Doyle (0-3), Denis Murphy (0-6,5f), Chris Nolan (0-1f) Subs: Ed Joyce for Nolan (50), Ross Smithers (0-1) for J Murphy (56), Diarmuid Byrnes (0-1) for Denis Murphy (57)
KERRY: Martin Stackpoole; John Buckley, Bryan Murphy, Tom Murnane; Sean Weir, Mikey Boyle, Daniel Collins; Brandon Barrett, Daithí Griffin; Brendan O'Leary, Barry Mahony, Colum Harty (0-1); Pádraig Boyle (0-7, 1f, 1 '65), Shane Conway (0-6, 5 f), Jack Goulding (0-4, 1 sideline cut) Sub: Daniel O'Carroll for Harty (67)
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Wexford).
The game in 60 seconds
In terms of stepping up when he was most needed, Carlow wing-forward Edward Byrne was the obvious choice for this accolade. Pádraig Boyle wasn't far off, and couldn't really have done much more with the amount of ball that came his way.
Kerry were a point up inside the last ten minutes when Pádraig Boyle took possession just outside the 13m line, eyeing up his team's best goal chance. Paul Doyle made a crucial block, deflecting the sliothar over the bar. At the time Kerry welcomed the point, though in hindsight, they needed more from that opening.
No John Michael Nolan or Marty Kavanagh for Carlow, no Shane Nolan, Darren Dineen, Jordan Conway for Kerry - the Joe McDonagh Cup might be the main show in town for these counties, but the stellar list of absentees paints a different picture.