Tuesday 16 July 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Still in the cup and a county on the up, Carlow rising is gaining momentum'


Pádraig Amond: Talented all-rounder. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images
Pádraig Amond: Talented all-rounder. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Back in November, Pádraig Amond started as he intended to go on in the FA Cup.

In front of just over 1,100 people, he scored the first goal as Newport County saw off the Metropolitan Police - one of the lowest-ranked teams still in the competition at that point - to secure safe passage to the next round.

On Tuesday night, at a rain-soaked Rodney Parade, he repeated the dose, scoring from a corner once again. On a pitch that looked every bit the home of Pro14 rugby outfit Dragons, Amond's goal moved him to joint top of the scoring charts in the competition, but more importantly secured a fifth round clash with mega-rich Manchester City.

It was a result that thrust Carlow and Carlow sport back into the limelight - if it had ever been out of it.

Last weekend, the hurlers secured a draw with 2017 All-Ireland champions Galway. At first glance it mightn't seem like much to get carried away about but Carlow are pulling from just four senior clubs - Mount Leinster Rangers, St Mullins, Ballinkillen and Myshall - but are making light of that disadvantage.

The rows over resources in the GAA will rumble on and on. And there's no doubt that money and playing bases are a huge advantage.

But Carlow are the poster boys for what can be achieved with a little organisation. Last year, the Barrowsiders claimed Division 2A league honours last year before claiming the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup.

It was a success that guarantees them championship outings against Kilkenny, Wexford, Dublin and the Tribesmen this summer.

Had things gone differently, Amond could have been part of their landmark draw with Galway last weekend. He was an underage hurler of some renown and was part of Carlow team that won a minor 'B' All-Ireland in 2005. However, their real time in the sun came the following summer. Their Leinster campaign had started with a defeat to Offaly but by the time the sides met again, Carlow were prepared. Amond grabbed 1-4 as Offaly were toppled in Portlaoise to book a spot in a Leinster minor final.

That win guaranteed them two more days out but Amond and Co would come up against future stars of the game against both Kilkenny in the provincial decider and Tipp in the All-Ireland quarter-final. The likes of Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly were in action for the Cats while Amond was being tracked by Pádraic Maher in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

At that stage, Amond was already well on his way to a career in soccer. He was on the books of Shamrock Rovers and would go on to earn a handful of U-21 caps and a spell in Portugal before settling for England, where he bounced around a number of clubs before signing for Newport in 2017.

While Amond set off on his soccer career, Carlow GAA struggled for traction. The footballers have told stories about how they'd go looking for challenge games but other teams wouldn't agree to them because they felt there was simply no point.

Last year they gained promotion for the first time in 33 years. Later that year went on to record a first championship win over neighbours Kildare in 65 years. It's not too long ago since championship wins were rare for Carlow but under Turlough O'Brien, they've found a way to be competitive while also bloodying a few noses along the way.

They look after their own too. In the dressing room after they beat Louth in the championship last summer - a team they had lost to by ten points just two years earlier - a crate of '59 South' beer appeared. Its tagline? 'Carlow born, Carlow bred.' A local pub also run a drinks promotion to celebrate when Amond scores in the FA Cup.

The worm has also turned for the hurlers. Mount Leinster Rangers went on an unlikely run to the club final in 2014 and now the county side are holding their own in Division 1B. Richie Coady, who hurled with Amond at minor level, was still on duty as they secured last weekend's draw with Galway.

Seán O'Brien has kept Carlow sport to the front of people's minds over the last few years. He was joined by Ed and Bryan Byrne at Leinster with the twins making their senior debuts last year. The hurlers and the footballers are moving in the right direction too. As the hero of the hour from the Galway game Marty Kavanagh put it: "It's been a great couple of years. The buzz that's there for Carlow GAA is something that hasn't been there for a long, long time and it's definitely there now. I've never heard anything like Sunday."

Still in the cup and a county on the up. Carlow is indeed rising.

Irish Independent

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