Carlow football has received a major setback with the decision of Turlough O'Brien to step down as senior football manager after six years. Under O'Brien's leadership the county experienced a few years of relative prosperity, before regressing more recently.
O'Brien guided the county to promotion from Division 4 of the NFL for the first time in 33 years. They celebrated their rise with victory in Antrim in March, 2018.
One of the summer highlights was a terrific Leinster Championship win over Kildare the same year, their first over the Lilywhites in the championship since 1953.
Remarkably, O'Brien's team didn't kick one wide during their 2-14 to 1-10 victory in Tullamore, earning them a place in the Leinster semi-finals, having defeated Louth in the opening round. But their hopes of going a step further and making the final for the first time since 1944 ended against Laois in Croke Park. Carlow went into the qualifiers and had a memorable tussle with Tyrone before going out of the competition at Dr Cullen Park.
The previous year they overcame Wexford in the opening round in Leinster which earned them a meeting with all-conquering Dublin in Portlaoise.
In recent years their fortunes dipped, with O'Brien receiving a 20-week suspension last year after an incident in a league game against Down, Carlow later suffered relegation back to Division 4.
O'Brien had always planned to quit the job once this season had ended for his team. But the GAA's roadmap for the return to action this year, which includes an October start for inter-county football and the possibility of the season carrying over into 2021, encouraged him to act now.
"The Allianz Football League is hugely important for Carlow football and I won't be there to manage the team in it early next year, so it makes sense to stand aside now," said O'Brien.
Willie Quinlan, a local match analyst and a member of the same club, Éire Óg, that O'Brien previously enjoyed success with, said that Carlow had "big boots to fill".
"There is a huge amount of time, even away from the field, needed to manage an inter-county team now and I think he has given everything to it that he has been able to.
"Maybe the timing isn't ideal, because there is so much uncertainty with the pandemic, but there is no good time is there?"
As for a possible successor, Quinlan mentioned Joe Murphy, who has managed Éire Óg to win three consecutive county titles and reach last year's Leinster final, as a contender to replace O'Brien.
Of O'Brien's impact, Quinlan said: "I think he got the best out of them. He made a very clever move in bringing in Steven Poacher as coach, I know it changed the whole style and it wasn't nice to look at, but it definitely worked. We had some great days."
In April, Carlow was hit by the shock revelation that veteran player Ray Walker (35) had failed a drugs test, which led to a four-year ban. He decided not to appeal. Later O'Brien expressed support and sympathy for the player and claimed that there were defects in the system of doping being overseen by the GAA.
Last November news broke that Poacher would be leaving as coach, having been a key figure in the management set-up.
When this year's league was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Carlow were third from bottom in Division 4, with four points collected over five rounds of games.
Sunday Indo Sport