Mount Leinster's Nolan insists Carlow sides must face top opposition to make progress
Hurling minnows aiming to prove decision-makers got it wrong ahead of historic clash with Oulart
IN the days that followed Mount Leinster Rangers' famous Leinster club SHC semi-final success against Ballyboden St Enda's, the social media pages of players and supporters were flooded with pictures, videos and links to online newspaper articles documenting history.
Among them was footage of joyous MLR followers flooding onto the Dr Cullen Park pitch as mayhem ensued after James Owens blew his full-time whistle. Padraig Nolan found himself engulfed by well-wishers and, while he smiles now and admits that it might have been "a bit much," the elation was wholly understandable.
Because, coming just 24 hours after the controversial decision by the GAA's Central Council to stick with the status quo for next year's National Hurling League, this victory was about more than just Mount Leinster Rangers.
This was about Carlow, too, and sticking two fingers up at the elite who had turned their backs on them.
"It was a massive win, not just for the club, but for the county as well," Nolan acknowledges. And if Mount Leinster Rangers, the first Carlow team to appear in a Leinster senior club final, can scalp Oulart-the Ballagh at Nowlan Park on Sunday, the gospel will touch more followers. Coming just 21 months after the club stormed to All-Ireland intermediate club glory at Croke Park, beating the Wexford champions would see this progressive club scale new heights again.
From Scorteen, Borris, midfielder Nolan remains one of the key men for Mount Leinster Rangers. He was 28 when MLR won the All-Ireland intermediate club title and while Derek Byrne provides the midfield craft and scoring touch from the middle of the park, Nolan is an able, hard-working foil alongside him.
A quietly-spoken individual, it is clear that he was a little overwhelmed by the mass hysteria that greeted the landmark victory against Ballyboden.
"It was a bit much," he grins. "But you have to enjoy these things when you get them. Our main priority at the start of the year was to win the county final, our bread and butter, and move on from there. We're lucky we did that and moved into Leinster."
Having claimed a third successive Carlow senior crown, MLR had to work desperately hard for a Leinster quarter-final victory against Westmeath's Castletown-Geoghegan. They came through with just two points to spare, but Nolan believes that it set them up for a seismic tilt at Ballyboden.
"We played the Westmeath champions and that was a tough game to get over, a big game for us after slipping up the last couple of years," he says. "It set us up to go in against Ballyboden with no pressure, as such -- give it our all and see."
Since then, the good wishes have come flooding in from all over the county. Nolan can only wonder at what the reaction might be if they could inflict another Leinster final defeat on Oulart. They might be 9/4 outsiders with the bookmakers, but the feeling in the Mount Leinster Rangers camp is that if they're in the hunt with 10 minutes to go, the old demons will resurface in an Oulart side that has lost the last three Leinster deciders.
"Carlow hurling needs to progress, needs to be playing the bigger teams," Nolan says. "We've seen it in our own club and other clubs around the county -- we're getting challenge games against better clubs, which does bring up the standard for everyone. You have to be playing the bigger teams to try and push things on."
Now they are doing just that and there's just one more hurdle to clear in the quest to become Leinster senior champions.
Naturally, Nolan is conscious of the challenge that lies ahead. Oulart may carry some psychological scars from previous provincial campaigns, but they showed little sign of mental baggage when dispensing with last year's winners Kilcormac-Killoughey in the semi-finals.
"Just on TG4 the other night," replies Nolan, when asked if he's seen much of the Wexford kingpins.
"They're a serious team, serious club. Wexford people are very proud of their hurling and this Oulart team has household names. It's about us being ready for the day, give it our all and see from there."