Tuesday 24 April 2018

Feel-good factor hard to beat as Carlow fans hail heroes

Gary Kelly celebrates after scoring Carlow's goal during their GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3B match against Monaghan at Netwatch Cullen Park. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Gary Kelly celebrates after scoring Carlow's goal during their GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 3B match against Monaghan at Netwatch Cullen Park. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

The GAA's catchy slogan - 'nothing beats being there' - never rang as true as it did for last Saturday evening's qualifier clash in Netwatch Cullen Park between Carlow and Monaghan.

On co-commentary duty with Mike Finnerty for Sky Sports, try as we might we could never hope to match the atmosphere that permeated through the ground from long before the throw-in, and for a long time afterwards.

I enjoyed a bit of pre-match chat and banter with the Carlow stewards on duty and the consensus was that all anyone wanted was a good contest - and that their new-found heroes wouldn't take a pasting.

Driven on by their colourful 16th man, Carlow dared to dream, and pushed an erratic Monaghan team to the pin of their sweltering collars.

Predictably, and understandably, Turlough O'Brien instructed his players to do what he felt was needed.

Diligently they maintained a robust defensive line throughout; rocks of men on which the Monaghan attacking waves frequently crashed.

Yet even as Carlow unexpectedly led going in to the final 10 minutes, the vocal excitement from the Carlow support was tempered with an air of inevitability.

Exhausted and lacking any forward thrust, the Carlow players could give no more.

Monaghan's extra years of conditioning began to tell, and cracks, albeit slender, began to appear in the Carlow rearguard.

After the game the Carlow players and management were swarmed for photos and selfies in a deserved send-off to a memorable summer.

Monaghan were marginally the better team and deserved to win, but O'Brien can be immensely proud of his players.

Monaghan left Carlow on Saturday evening with a hard-fought win and plenty of room for improvement - no bad return.

Carlow players and management headed into the town to be hailed as kings for the night. Everyone was a winner.

This summer there will be bigger crowds and better games with more at stake, yet Saturday's contest will resonate with all those concerned with Carlow GAA for a long time to come.

This was a feel-good evening of football and entertainment if ever there was one.

At half-time, hundreds of kids poured on to the pitch from the terraces to emulate their respective Carlow and Monaghan heroes. High up from the Sky Sports crow's nest, I spotted my eldest son trying to kick a score, only for a wee Carlow lad to try and steal the ball.

Just before the second-half started, the Carlow PA asked for a round of applause for the future stars of tomorrow. It was simply a marvellous spectacle to watch.

I watched the game back to see how my first outing on air went, and thankfully the atmosphere came through on camera. But for those lucky enough to make the journey, they will testify that: 'Nothing beats being there.'

Irish Independent

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