Given the choice of which direction to point the car this eekend for a Championship fix, it was a straightforward answer for me. Carlow v Wexford, writes John Divilly.
Seamus McEnaney has provided the spark, culture, and football savvy to get Wexford promoted from Division 4 in his first year in charge.
I’ve worked with several of the current Wexford players as manager of the UCD Sigerson team and they are very hardworking and dedicated guys. They will be trying to show their NFL League Division 4 final defeat by Westmeath wasn’t a true reflection of their talents. There will be plenty of column inches devoted to Seamus and the Wexford lads over the next few days, but I would like to cast some light on Carlow.
Carlow-Wexford mightn’t wet everyone’s lips, but I spent several very enjoyable seasons with Rathvilly, where I got a very good education from Carlow people on football and their football culture. If I had notions that I couldn’t, or more importantly wouldn’t, learn anything new from the Village club, I was truly mistaken.
To me, Carlow was the home of a successful horse trainer, Willie Mullins, a rugby ox in Sean O’Brien, acres of some of the best tillage land in Ireland, hundreds of Monastic settlements, OralB Braun, unique village names like Myshall, Ardattin or Bagenalstown, and Dr Cullen Park where the county team wore that very unusual traffic-light jersey.
It may be the second smallest county in Ireland with a population of just under 58,000 people, but be in no doubt they love their GAA just as much as any Galway, Dublin or Kerry gael.
In Molloy’s, they weren’t shy about expressing their opinions on why they should be winning more club titles and why Carlow should be competing at a higher level.
I learned that Jim Bolger had a very successful yard in Rathvilly and provided great employment for the locals, I saw where Kevin Barry was reared, how the locals prided themselves in winning the National Tidy Town awards, and why Éire Óg and O’Hanrahans had won six Leinster Senior club titles between them in a short period of time.
On the training field, they were a joy to coach. You could throw any new idea, coaching drill or game situation in their face and they responded enthusiastically. They were a very close-knit group, clannish if you like, and would take to the fields of Tinyrland, Kildavin, Oldleighlin or Fenagh like warriors.
That’s where I learned some real coaching, or man management skills: their enthusiasm and passion often went over the top, resulting in skirmishes, off-the-ball incidents, and insults to opposing teams, referees, and supporters.
Naturally, this trait wasn’t coached or pre-meditated. It just got picked up along the road and became part of their learned behaviour, or culture as we now like to call it.
Once pointed out, to a man, their discipline got better. They focused more on their technical and tactical abilities. They all wanted to improve as players and, of course, win games and Championship matches. They played some brilliant football, won some, lost some, celebrated victories, mourned defeats, learned as individuals and as a team, and some have progressed to play with their county — Carlow.
Why is this relevant in discussing a Leinster Championship game on Sunday?
Because to know a team, you have to know their players. To know their players, you have to know their clubs. To know their clubs, you have to integrate yourself among the people, respect their traditions, learn their ways, but ultimately, if you want to help them to succeed, pass on some knowledge you’ve learned along the road.
Carlow has had a moderate National League campaign this year. I say moderate because they are sick of being in the lowest division. They are fed up of hard luck stories, near misses and loyal and not-so-loyal Carlow supporters telling them they’re not ready for Division 3 football. Why are they “unlucky” every year and how can a victory on Sunday change this?
I really do believe you have to make your own luck. You need good players to win championship matches and you need a good panel to have a long summer. Do Carlow senior footballers have the right stuff?
Carlow has good players. Their goalkeepers, Robbie Molloy and Craig Kearney, can hit short and long accurate kick-outs. Barry John Molloy and Chris Crowley are tight-marking defenders. They will be well tested by some class Wexford attackers in Ciaran Lyng, PJ Banville, Kevin O’Grady and Ben Brosnan. They have a very experienced trio around the middle third with Dan St Ledger, Shane Redmond and John Murphy all looking to provide leadership and drive.
Players like Eoin Ruth, Gary Kelly, Alan Kelly, Sean Gannon and captain, Darragh Foley will be expected to work up and down the flanks and chip in with some scores or engineer some scorable frees for Paul Broderick.
Broderick is a very good corner-forward. He’s very accurate from open and placed balls. He can be a match-winner. Potentially, they have an exciting midfield pairing in the two Murphys, Sean and Brendan, no relation. I haven’t seen Sean play championship yet and I’m looking forward to see how he copes against the probable Wexford pairing of Daithi Waters and Colm Kehoe.
The other Murphy, I know very well. There is no doubt that Brendan, in my opinion, is the inspiration for this team. Those words will not put added pressure on his shoulders. He has been a household name both locally and nationally since he burst onto the scene 10 years ago as a Carlow minor.
His exploits earned him a contract in Australia. His love of home, family, Rathvilly, and football brought him back to Carlow, once the capital of this country in the 14th century. He has shown he can be a “box-to-box” midfielder, proven he has aerial superiority over his opponents, can score brilliant points from distance off either foot, and can spray passes inside that every forward craves.
However, in recent championship campaigns, his discipline has deserted him at times. Naturally, all good opposing managers try to curb his influence. He has fallen victim to the black and other coloured cards on several occasions. Occasionally, he fails to release the ball quickly enough, which brings him into unnecessary contact.
Players with only a fraction of his skill have developed the ability to nullify him. Unfortunately, some supporters only remember his occasional lack of concentration in a match and vent their frustration that one of Carlow’s best players is sitting in the stand beside them.
I have seen first-hand Brendan having to confront jealous and unsporting conduct from opposing players, mentors and supporters, even some referees with the “good-enough-for-him” attitude.
Brendan, play the game hard and fair, don’t get sucked in, and smile at them.
So why has Carlow been unlucky? Bad luck, when you break it down, equals inconsistency. Carlow drew with Westmeath in the first round of the NFL this year, a brilliant performance away from home. The following week, at home against London, they were well beaten. Why? Against Westmeath (1) they were very defensive and hit them on the counter and (2) they respected them and knew they would be punished if they didn’t play with maximum concentration.
Against London (1) they played more 15 v 15 and (2) they didn’t show them enough respect. They beat Limerick in Round 3 before losing away to Leitrim in Round 4. Carlow finished the league strongly with victories over Waterford, Wicklow, and Wexford. They narrowly missed out on promotion again.
This unluckiness, or inconsistency, over the years has cost them.
Can one victory on Sunday inspire them to a consistent run in this year’s championship? No, but one victory on Sunday for the North Slaneysiders against the South Slaneysiders would provide a lot of extra motivation next spring when they stare up to the summit of Division 4, striving for first or second place.
A victory for Turlough O’Brien’s men will be bloody hard against a good Wexford side, but the players have a great opportunity to play ball and win. A victory on Sunday might even awaken the spirits of all those around the Sugar Beet factory, the Brownshill Dolemns, The Blackstairs mountains or the followers of Fiach Mac Aodh O Broin who whistled “Follow me up to Carlow” as they marched to defeat an army of 3,000 English soldiers at the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580.
And it might get Martin Deering kickin off a sing-song in Molloy’s…
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