Carlow ace Darragh Foley: 'Our target is to shock the country'
Darragh Foley doesn't want to hear about secondary football championships. He isn't enamoured either by the term 'weaker counties', a catch-all description of those who have spent most of their existence in the bottom 12.
That includes Carlow, who are usually put forward as an example of a county trapped at a certain level by circumstances beyond their control.
A dual county in the real sense, as opposed to many others who pay lip service to one code or the other, Carlow have the third lowest population in the country, which places enormous pressures on their playing and financial resources.
For all that, their hurlers won the Division 2A title this year, taking them into 1B (top 12) next season.
Their footballers won the Division 4 title, earning a place in Division 3 for the first time since the mid-1980s.
Foley played a big part in the latter success and gave a fine performance too when Carlow beat Louth in the Leinster Championship last Sunday week, setting up a quarter-final clash with Kildare on Sunday.
It's another step up in class, but the days are gone when Carlow were regarded as an easy touch.
Their positive mindset is built on the progress of recent seasons, especially last year when they troubled Dublin for far longer than expected in the Leinster Championship, before reaching Round 3 of the qualifiers where they tested Monaghan all the way.
The progress continued in this year's league and now the ambition is to make a bold statement against Kildare, who dropped out of Division 1 after losing all seven games.
"We want to shock the country - that's our target. We're playing against a team that has aspirations to make the Super Eight. It's a big challenge for us but we trust ourselves and what we're doing and see this as a great chance to showcase our skills," said Foley.
His job as a sales representative with Pharma Nord - which specialises in health food products - takes him all over Leinster, a province where football is so dominated by Dublin that nobody believes they will get a serious challenge this year either.
It's a different world to the one occupied by Carlow and many others, but Foley is neither negative nor resentful, although he would like to see a more equal share of GAA wealth.
"Maybe it's time to have some pooling system for sponsorship money. Obviously the bigger, more successful counties, attract a lot more sponsorship than the rest of us so maybe that should be shared among others too.
"There's no game without every county - we all play our part, but it's not a level playing pitch. We have our own man in Croke Park now (new director-general Tom Ryan is from Carlow) so maybe he will take a look at it and see what can be done," said Foley.
Calls for a second-tier football championship have been gaining momentum in recent years, with advocates claiming that, if properly constructed and marketed, it would be a big success.
Foley rejects that view, arguing that players from the lower divisions want to test themselves against the best all the time.
"We won Division 4 this year and we want to see how we can do in Division 3 next year. We beat Louth, who were in Division 2, and now we want to see how get on against a Division 1 team.
"It's the same in the qualifiers. You want to be playing in the same competition as everyone else. We gave Monaghan a good test last year.
"They aren't much bigger than us (population) but have been in Division 1 for a good few years. That's the direction we want to go.
"We look at Clare and Tipperary and see how they have worked their up the ranks. That's what we're trying to do in Carlow. I would prefer trying to do that within the championship system as it is than being in any secondary competition," said Foley.
It's a long time since Carlow football has been so high (they have won 13, drawn 1 and lost six of their last 20 league and championship games), creating a real sense of excitement in the county.
Foley, who made his senior debut in 2010, has never seen anything like it.
"Expectations are rising and, while that brings its own pressures, it's great for the whole county.
"You can sense the excitement around the county. They got a feel for it last year and, like ourselves, they want more.
"We don't see ourselves as a weaker county, just a county doing its best to keep improving and building all the time. And the only way we can keep doing that is by moving up as we go," he said.
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