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Dempsey puts Carlow focus firmly on Wexford

CARLOW players and management basked in the national media attention after their dramatic injury-time Leinster quarter-final victory over Louth on Sunday, but tonight it's back to training for the semi-final against Wexford.

Manager Luke Dempsey was home in Mullingar on Sunday night, while his players enjoyed a celebratory evening in a Carlow pub highlighted by watching the accolades being heaped on them by RTE's 'Sunday Game' team.

And there's no question of the manager getting shirty with the lads for enjoying a good night after breaking Carlow's Leinster championship hoodoo.

Five years without a championship victory, written off by all the pundits, subject to some defections from the panel, fielding a team with five debutants and still claiming victory -- it was heady stuff.


But Dempsey has no fears about his players' resolve to stand tall and give Wexford a battle at Croke Park on June 26. The visit to headquarters -- Carlow's first since their 2008 loss to Meath -- will not overawe the Carlow team.

"I haven't the slightest doubt about that. I have been there before with Westmeath and Longford and it is management's role to make sure that Croke Park won't be a factor," he said.

"They are a very level-headed group. The performance in the Leinster semi-final will be the best Carlow can offer, and there will be no complacency and no excuses. We'll get together at training tonight and start from there, but right now Carlow GAA is on a high and it's great to see that."

Dempsey has put his stamp on the side, combining a young cohort of last year's and current U-21s with a backbone of experienced players.

Full-back Conor Lawlor (19) has not played senior football for his club Palatine yet and Sunday was his senior inter-county debut as well as a championship debut.

Lawlor is a county U-21 player, but impressed Dempsey, who assesses him as "a young Paddy Christie".

Other first-time championship players were 'keeper Trevor O'Reilly, right corner-back Aidan Murphy and left half-back Kieran Nolan. The 'keeper came in to the Carlow panel as an outfield player during Dempsey's first year in charge but when O'Reilly impressed while playing in goal for his club Tinryland, that became his county position.

O'Reilly showed his prowess by making a vital point-blank save from Louth's Derek Maguire early on when the game was still scoreless.

The blend of youth with experienced heads such as Patrick Hickey -- a London-based engineer who came out of retirement -- star man Brendan Murphy and the effervescent Thomas Walsh worked wonders on Sunday.

Timing is everything in life, as well as football, and in that respect Dempsey was grateful to be starting the championship in June rather than May. "It gave us a few extra weeks to work on our football and our fitness and two weeks ago we had a bonding weekend in Johnstown House in Enfield which was very valuable," he said. "We played Cavan on the Friday night and we worked on our fitness and video analysis and at the end of it we could see the benefits in the following week's training sessions."

Carlow-born Irish rugby star Sean O'Brien, the Heineken Cup Player of the Year, had a few training sessions recently with the GAA players to keep his fitness ticking over. The presence of a local lad made good added to the banter and morale in the squad.

Brendan Murphy, who played with strained ankle ligaments on Sunday, was in contact with Dempsey yesterday and will be at training tonight.

The happy vibes will flow in Carlow for the next two weeks, but Dempsey is well aware that the difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the backside is just six inches.

Wexford have set out their stall and will go into the game as favourites.

Patrick Hickey and Thomas Walsh are the only current Carlow players who featured in the June 2005 meeting with Wexford at Croke Park, which the Slaneysiders won by 3-12 to 2-10.

Irish Independent