Thursday 23 May 2019

'Run the league and championship at same time' - O'Brien

Turlough O’Brien’s Carlow have the chance to reach the Leinster SFC final on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Turlough O’Brien’s Carlow have the chance to reach the Leinster SFC final on Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Ciarán Gallagher

Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien believes the GAA should consider playing the league and championship concurrently in an effort to tackle fixture congestion.

O'Brien's Carlow side are currently enjoying a fine run of form, claiming back-to-back Leinster SFC victories over Louth and Kildare following their promotion from Division 4 of the league.

A vocal opponent of the new 'super 8s' structure, the Barrowsiders' boss is concerned by recent talk of a 'B' Championship being introduced in the near future and he reckons a radical plan to benefit weaker counties and the club game is needed.

"I don't think it [talk of a 'B' Championship] will ever end because there's people driving this notion because they want the top eight teams playing all the time," said O'Brien.

"They want big days in Croke Park and TV audiences. That's what's driving it… I don't think people are listening in my opinion anyway to grassroots.

"The GAA is like Hydra - that guy with all the heads. You've clubs, you've hurling, you've football and they're all competing against each other. We can't say we're looking after clubs the way we're going on at the moment. A lot of clubs are struggling big time all over the country. I just think we're in danger of doing long-term damage to the GAA," continued the manager, who suggested moving the National League to a simultaneous summer slot with the championship as one possible fixture solution.

"Do [county] players want more games? I don't know. I think they want games at the right time of the year," said O'Brien when quizzed on the 'super 8s'.

"My latest theory is that we should move the league into the summer and play it alongside the championship.

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"I think it'd be fantastic. Say you've two rounds of the league and you've a knockout championship game in the middle of it. I tell you, it'd focus the minds, big time."

The Barrowsiders take on Laois in the Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park on Sunday as they aim to reach their first provincial final since 1944.

Carlow are slight underdogs again this weekend when they will be aiming to avoid a hat-trick of defeats after Laois recorded two league wins over O'Brien's side in the space of a week last March.

However, O'Brien is delighted that is county is for once buzzing with optimism. "Expectations are great because the expectation up to now was that we'd lose, and we always fulfilled it to the letter of the law," said the Éire Óg club man.

"We're kind of getting a mindset now that we kind of expect to win. We're not making any predictions about results because it's a fool's game really, but no one will beat Carlow easily this year, I'll guarantee you that.

"Both counties realise it's a 50-50 game. I mean there was nothing in the two games between us in the league and it's going to be the same next weekend. They know our strengths and weaknesses, they know we're at the same level."


While All-Ireland champions Dublin have been way ahead of the pack in Leinster, Carlow put up a fighting effort against Jim Gavin's side in their provincial clash last year.

And ahead of a potential Leinster final date with the Dubs, O'Brien is getting tired of a general fatalistic attitude to the Leinster SFC.

O'Brien said: "There's guys writing in newspapers and they're writing the same story every weekend and it's a mantra: 'Football is a disaster'. It really annoys me. I don't know how they're kept on.

"I think Carlow are showing now that a team that is well-organised, structured and prepared can compete… and that's the way it's worked out.

"I think the players have to have belief that you can achieve something with your county - not necessarily that you might win a Leinster Championship or an All-Ireland but that you can go out there on a given day."

The Barrowsiders' counter-attacking tactics have come in for some flak from certain pundits, but their display against Kildare went some way to silencing their critics as they kicked 2-14 without registering a single wide.

"We executed our game-plan very well and it was probably nearly a perfect performance if you like," said O'Brien, who defended Carlow's style of play.

"Traditionally, we'd always be conceding huge scores. You're beat in the first five minutes. So you need to get your defence right first and that takes a while.

"You know at some stage you're obviously going to have to develop your attacking play, but good, scoring forwards aren't exactly flaithúlach around the country, never mind in Carlow. There's not too many Paul Brodericks around."

Central to their disciplined style is an emphasis on ball skills in training.

"All our training is game-based," explained O'Brien. "I don't think we ran a sprint all year. It's all game-related and players love that," added the manager, who has also fostered team spirit by raging against the now-common trends of drink bans and media blackouts.

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