No fluke or mystery, just raw courage
What a game and what a finale! I may not see a more entertaining game of inter-county football in 2011 than the one witnessed in Portlaoise yesterday when Carlow, probably the biggest outsiders in the country, shocked last year's Leinster finalists Louth.
And make no mistake, this was no fluke result -- there were no lucky scores.
Instead, they won through with the help of the very fundamentals of football: a fierce will to win, laying your body on the line in search of the ball and, above all, self-belief in the final quarter against all the odds.
The sheer joy and excitement at the final whistle when Brendan Murphy kicked the winning point in the 36th minute of the second half and brought hundreds of Carlow fans onto the field to acclaim their heroes as if they had won the Leinster title was a magnificent sight and, thankfully, there were no officious 'maors' on duty to prevent this joyous pitch invasion.
In that respect, it was just like old times and to hell with health and safety for one day!
This was a huge achievement for every Carlow player and their manager Luke Dempsey, who will now lead his gallant heroes to Croke Park for a Leinster semi-final clash with Wexford.
And it is certainly changed times for these two counties to be battling for a place in the Leinster final.
Carlow played with far more fighting spirit and guts than Louth, who only showed these qualities sporadically. Aided by the substantial wind, Carlow led right through the first half as Louth looked totally out of touch and only managed to score three points in the opening 30 minutes.
By contrast Carlow scored consistently throughout that half and had eight points on the board in response to their opponent's five at the break.
Carlow were winning the midfield battle in that half, with Paddy Keenan subdued and the physical power of the Carlow pairing of Murphy and Darragh Foley very obvious.
In fact, throughout the game Carlow used their strength to good effect and it was clear several Louth players were not impressed by the stern tackling of their opponents.
Louth did improve greatly for the second half and the arrival of two subs in their attack -- Andy McDonnell and Ronan Carroll, who immediately earned a free each, both converted by Shane Lennon -- seemed to be the catalyst for a Wee County victory.
Keenan sprung to life with a vengeance in the second half and his partner Brian Donnolly also upped his game to such an extent that after 29 minutes Louth had gone ahead by 0-12 to 0-9.
At that point we all expected the game to end in the usual way, with Carlow fading away in the final quarter, as has happened so often before with so-called weaker teams.
But there was something different about this Carlow side as they took control in a dramatic manner.
In the final 15 minutes, scored an astonishing five points with only one in reply from Louth, who began to panic and make silly errors once the Carlow rally started.
Gradually, Carlow began to snatch points and even though they missed several handy chances close in, they kept plugging away and massive long-range point from Murphy, followed by a huge 55-metre free from Daniel St Ledger in the 35th minute, amazingly brought the teams level, with Louth in a state of panic and confusion.
The second minute of announced over-time was already in play when Murphy showed enormous courage by lofting a high ball from 50 metres out that sailed over the crossbar and set the celebrations rolling for the delighted Carlow fans and at the same time left Peter Fitzpatrick and the large Louth following absolutely stunned.
Thus, the long wait for that Leinster title remains for the Wee County. With Meath losing to Kildare a week earlier, the two counties involved in that controversial finale to last year's Leinster final are gone from this season's competition in the very first round. And, in a touch of savage irony, the two have been drawn together in the first round of the qualifiers.
Undoubtedly, Louth will again be kicking themselves for throwing this game away when they seemed to be in full control going into the last quarter, but an element of casualness, at a time when they needed to be ruthless, was their undoing.
Carlow, on the other hand, had enough players who read the scene as it unfolded in the last quarter and realised that Louth had not done enough to secure victory.
As each Carlow point came along --Murphy scored three of the last four -- the whole team rose to the occasion and threw tired limbs on the line in search of possession.
They kept Louth scoreless for the final 14 minutes and had enough left in the tank to organise the winning score at the death.
The crucial moment of this game came just before half-time when Louth corner-back Dessie Finnegan was sent off for a second yellow card.
The extra man for Carlow was their centre half-back and captain Shane Redmond, who anchored himself in front of the full-back line and time after time was available to collect clearances and even on occasion collect wayward passes.
So, there is no mystery to this result. A mixture of raw courage, strong physical play and the presence of some outstanding individuals like Murphy, Sean Gannon, St Ledger, Thomas Walsh, Redmond and Foley was too much for a slow-starting Louth side who also seemed to get a bit cocky in the third quarter when they outscored their opponents by seven points to five.
They paid a high price for such behaviour.