“If this doesn’t drive the young lads in the club, nothing will,” says Carrick hurling manager Olcan Conway of their breakthrough Connacht junior final victory.
Saturday’s 2-11 to 2-9 win over Galway representatives Ballygar was a historic result, not only for the Leitrim club, but for the county as a whole, representing as it did the first time a Leitrim club had annexed an adult provincial championship in either code.
Having overcome Sligo champions Coolera/Strandhill in the Connacht junior hurling semi-final, the Leitrim club overturned a narrow interval deficit at Bekan to edge Ballygar in the decider and, in the process, move within one hour of an All-Ireland final appearance at Croke Park next spring.
“We’d play the All-Ireland semi-final next week if we had to,” quipped Conway, adding that “the winter won’t be long passing, given we have this All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to”.
A significant improvement at underage level in recent years, Conway explained, was the key factor in enabling Carrick, a hurling club — which pulls players from football clubs such as St Mary’s Kiltoghert, Leitrim Gaels, Annaduff, and Eslin — to go where no Leitrim side has gone before.
“All our underage teams compete in Roscommon and are making finals every year at the various age groups. We are holding our own at underage. The last two years, we have seen a crop of young lads come into the senior set-up and it really freshened the whole panel. It was that extra bit of young blood which helped us a lot. The older lads saw the younger lads coming through and it gave them a lift.
“For our underage hurlers, you hope this result will inspire them to push on to the next level and to ensure that Saturday’s victory is replicated in the years ahead. You can’t beat winning. It is just wonderful. You could see the smile on the young kids’ faces on Saturday. They enjoyed it as much as we did.
“At the bridge, which leads you into Carrick-on-Shannon, we got off the bus and walked the cup across the Shannon. The players will remember that for a while to come.”
The result capped a fairly memorable weekend for goalkeeper Declan Molloy, who was among their scorers against Ballygar, the Carrick shot-stopper picking up a Nicky Rackard/Lory Meagher All-Star on Friday.