Monday 21 May 2018

Carlow people got 'irritated' by losing so often - Nevin

Former star out to enjoy overdue success

Daniel St Ledger posted a picture from the dressing room of Carlow players celebrating their promotion
Daniel St Ledger posted a picture from the dressing room of Carlow players celebrating their promotion
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Much of the early part of the week was dominated by the news of Carlow's promotion from the basement division for the first time in 33 years.

A win in Antrim meant years of toil and effort were finally rewarded. And theirs was a story everyone could get behind.

Social media was awash with images of celebrating players and fans. Perhaps one of Carlow's marquee players, former AFL hopeful Brendan Murphy, summed it up best when he tweeted: "This is huge, this is our All-Ireland, we are Carlow."

It was the journey that made the promotion so sweet. There were signs that Turlough O'Brien's side could rise from Division 4 in last year's championship when they played in an unprecedented five games for the county. But for many years before that, the heartbeat of football in the county was barely audible.

Johnny Nevin soldiered longer and harder for Carlow than most.

Across three decades, he lined out for the Barrowsiders in hurling and football, putting down far more bad days than good but consistently coming back for more.

When it was all said and done he reckons he had "a handful" of championship wins in football.

Position

From there he moved into a coaching role in the county, a position he held for 12 years where he witnessed the struggle first-hand.

Carlow GAA, he quickly learned, was a hard sell. Things got so bad that getting children to play in the half-time exhibitions became a struggle.

"One example of that, before Turlough came in, we used to bring youngsters in to play at the half-time mini games at the matches," Nevin recalls. "And at half-time the youngsters and their parents could go home because Carlow were so far behind.

"So it wasn't a sell at all for the youngsters or for their parents, they were there looking at their county getting hammered by average counties, not the All-Ireland champions or anything like that. But by teams that were way below that."

That story gives some context to Carlow's journey to Division 3 football in 2019 and the celebrations that accompanied it.

Nevin puts their revival down to a number of factors. One is the tune O'Brien, who he describes as a "good football man and a good Carlow man", has knocked out of the squad. Another is the commitment he has been given.

Crucially, O'Brien has also secured the county's best players, something that wasn't always a given down through the years.

"You always want to see your county going well and he got a commitment from lads and they bought into it. He got the best footballers in the county and they have been building. They are probably getting one or two more youngsters into every year and that's a help."

Nevin also reckons Carlow people got fed up of being one of the game's whipping boys.

"I just think from the era before Turlough the football would be gone so low that you'd be going to matches with Carlow and it would be over at half-time," Nevin said.

"There was a few matches against teams you'd usually be fairly formidable against and you could go home at half-time because the match would be over.

"I just think that Carlow people themselves were getting a bit irritated with it and knew that they were a bit better than that.

"Then, of course, Turlough got all the boys to commit to it."

Nevin always believed Carlow were better than they were showing.

They'd produce strong teams every so often. And if they had a chance of winning something, the county would get behind them.

Nevin won an All-Ireland 'B' title in 1994 when there were "10,000 in Tullamore" to see them beat Westmeath. He also says they had another good side in 2004 but the talent was squandered.

"The potential was always in them," said Nevin, who is currently in charge of the county's U-17 hurlers.

"The Brendan Murphys, the St Ledgers, the Foleys, they were all on good minor and U-21 teams in Carlow and one minor team that reached a Leinster final against Laois, so there were always good footballers there.

"And you have Sean Murphy and Jordan Morrissey coming through, Paul Broderick too. They were all there.

"Youngsters will go to grounds now and see Carlow winning matches and that's most important.

"That'll filter through and youngsters will want to play again.

"There are lads mad to play rather than trying to get lads to play."

Irish Independent

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