Saturday 18 November 2017

Carlow crew gearing up for the biggest test of careers

Carlow pair Daniel St Ledger (left) and Jamie Clarke celebrate following the Leinster SFC victory against Wexford. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Carlow pair Daniel St Ledger (left) and Jamie Clarke celebrate following the Leinster SFC victory against Wexford. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Turlough O'Brien won't be seeking Donald Trump's advice on wall-building but he does accept that it will be necessary to come up with a very special plan when his Carlow side takes on Dublin in the Leinster quarter-final in Portlaoise on Saturday week.

Carlow's win over Wexford sent waves of energy surging through the county on Sunday evening as supporters celebrated a first success in the Leinster championship since 2011.

The buoyant mood continued yesterday but the manager and his squad were already planning for a challenge that no Leinster county has overcome since Meath in 2010.

Carlow are priced at 25/1 to beat Dublin for only the second time in championship history but even those long odds are unlikely to attract many takers.

There were 26 places between the counties in this year's Allianz League, with Dublin topping Division 1 (before losing the final to Kerry) and Carlow finishing third in Division 4.

It's the ultimate challenge for Carlow but the camp are intent on enjoying it as a special prize.

"Whoever you are or wherever you are in sport, you want to test yourself against the best and they certainly don't come any better than Dublin," said O'Brien.

"This will be a great occasion for Carlow football and for the players who put so much into the game. There are lads there who have been great servants for eight or 10 years and it's brilliant to see them get a chance on a big stage. They deserve it."

Carlow's win over Wexford surprised most observers but O'Brien believes that's because they didn't look very closely in the first place. Wexford were promoted from Division 4 but lost to Carlow in the final round.

"We were quietly confident that we could beat them again," he said. "We were short six or seven players in the League game but that seemed to go unnoticed.

"All the focus was on Wexford during and after the League. We believed that if we got our game going we would win again and we did. We scored 2-17 and could have had another four goals."

Carlow had a high strike rate in the League too, averaging more than 17 points per game, but they are now heading into much different territory against possibly the best defence in the game. And if that weren't enough to contend with, they will also be facing the might of the Dublin attack.

Coping with the overall Dublin package presents O'Brien and his players with the biggest test they have ever faced.

"We will have a plan and be well-organised," he said.

"That's the starting point. It's about clarity of roles for the players and role acceptance by them. They have been very good in everything we've asked them to do so far. Obviously we couldn't even think about Dublin until this week. We had enough to worry about planning for Wexford. Now we can turn our attentions to Dublin and how best to take them on.

"We'll be up against one of the best sides in the history of the championship so we know what we're facing but that's the sort of test players like. This is a real bonus for us."

Carlow have to forego home advantage as Netwatch Cullen Park lacks the required capacity for what will be the first championship clash between the counties since June 1988, when Dublin won a Leinster quarter-final clash by 1-14 to 0-8.

That game was played in Carlow and attracted a crowd of 8,000, a figure that's likely to be doubled on Saturday week in Portlaoise.

"It's good for Carlow football people to have something big to look forward to. We'll do very best to make sure they enjoy it," said O'Brien.

Irish Independent

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