Carlow’s improving fortunes vindicate Dempsey’s decision to stay
CARLOW football boss Luke Dempsey has confessed to having one very personal reason for staying on this year -- to clear his own reputation.
After his side's shock defeat of Louth, he leads his native county into battle against Wexford on Sunday in their first Leinster semi-final since 1958.
But one of his primary goals has already been achieved.
"To have left after last year would have been a nightmare for me personally, because never before had I been involved with a team where there was so much indiscipline and negative talk," he admitted. "It was one of the main reasons I wanted to stay on.
"I would hate to be labelled as a manager, who, after two years, achieved nothing except a hammering by Wicklow and a sequence of matches where the team ended up with 13 players," he revealed.
He is proud that Carlow's only disciplinary blip since then was the sending-off of JJ Smith against Roscommon in the league, which earned him a four-month suspension on the repeat offence rule.
"I knew it was in us all -- especially myself and our team trainer Wayne Middleton -- that we would turn this around," Dempsey said. "At the start of the year, it was a huge concern that we would be more disciplined and we addressed it, big time.
"Against Louth, when they had a man sent off and a couple of players were booked, we didn't panic. A lot of our training has centred around tackling properly.
"It's paid off and the players really deserve all the credit they get for listening and learning, when so many others in the county didn't and chose to leave the panel."
Dempsey stands by his belief that their long-awaited Leinster victory can help solve the county's perennial defection problems. Hurling already takes many good footballers -- Denis Murphy and Eddie Byrne of last year's good U-21s are now with the county hurlers -- and he has no problem with that.
But 14 players have left his football panel since the start of the year and there were others who merely yawned at the invitation to join it. So, why does Carlow continue to have so many inter-county dissidents?
"It's cultural, years of not achieving anything and it permeates right down to underage," Dempsey said. "It is a huge issue. There needs to be success at some age group or that feeling (remains) of you go into the county 'to win nothing' and go back to your club and at least hope to win a county title.
"But a particular group have stuck by it, and, through the different challenges, have seen there can be light at the end of the tunnel."
He pinpoints several turning points this year, including an away victory over Leitrim in the league where they "really stuck to their game plan," and staying in contention for promotion right up to the final game.
Carlow also benefitted from the decent gap to their championship opener and got in a good training weekend at Johnstown House in Enfield.
Getting midfield star Brendan Murphy back -- he missed most of the league due to injury and his new career in the army -- was another massive boost.
Several players, like Murphy, come from the team who contested the 2007 Leinster minor final and took Dublin to extra-time in last year's Leinster U-21 semi-final.
They fielded five championship debutants against Louth, but Dempsey's biggest gamble was 19-year-old Conor Lawlor at full-back as he hadn't yet played senior for his club Palatine.
Lawlor has had a shoulder injury since, but did light training on Tuesday and is expected to make it and Dempsey says he had no qualms about throwing him in at the deep end.
"Conor was excellent in the U-21 campaign and when he was asked into the senior squad, his whole positivity was refreshing. Full-back was an area we knew needed to be filled."
Unlike many teams for whom playing in Croke Park is a novelty, Carlow's management didn't seek a 'recce' visit to HQ over the past fortnight.
"We purposely didn't ask because we feel it's just another pitch and don't want the players to be weighed down with expectations of fear or failure," Dempsey revealed.
"Wexford are flying, they're a long time on the go, they'd Dublin beaten last year, but there's no reason why our lads will be weighed down by anything, that's the job of the management."