When GAA president Nickey Brennan presented the cup to Carlow captain Edward Coady he said: “This will go down as one of the great hurling games of this year, or any other year,” he said, to huge cheers from the assembled Carlow support, and Nickey was right. It was a classic.
Five minutes additional time was the signal from the fourth official as normal time ran out, and at that stage Westmeath were trailing by six points, the match looking done and dusted.
But Westmeath corner-forward John Shaw goaled and then won the resulting puckout, sending the ball to his captain, Brendan Murtagh; he was fouled in the square and buried the penalty. Draw.
Ultimately, however, hard and all as it was on Johnny Dooley’s Westmeath, justice was done, and Carlow were worthy winners, but they had to earn this win.
They’d won the toss, took a gamble and opted to play into the strong breeze in the first-half. On the short whistle, it seemed to have paid off as the teams headed for the dressing-rooms level, 1-10 apiece. Westmeath had started strongly, led 0-2 to no score after five minutes, were still in control on 12 minutes, 1-5 to 0-3 the goal coming from Derek McNicholas.
It was then that Carlow came into their own, however. With their half-back line dominating, brothers Edward and Richard Coady and Shane Kavanagh in the centre all hurling superbly, they drove forward in search of scores, and in rapid succession, those scores came. Point by free-taker Colin Hughes to kick-start the run, then the goal, full-forward Robert Foley getting away with a timely nudge on Paul Greville to grab a long Kavanagh free and laying off perfectly to corner-forward Craig Doyle, who finished well.
More points, the first a superb sideline from 30m left by midfielder Damien Roberts, had Carlow in the lead in the 20th minute, 1-7 to 1-5, and from being in a position of comfort, Westmeath were now under the cosh. They rallied before the break and tied it up, but without question the reigning champions were in trouble.
In the first 11 minutes of the second half Carlow went even further ahead, two goals in two minutes (the first from Robert Foley, the second from Doyle), sandwiched between four points, 3-14 to 1-10 up, Westmeath yet to raise a flag in the period.
Inspired by man-of-the-match Murtagh, however, who scored 1-2 in the next five minutes, the fightback began, and by the 60th minute there was just a goal in it, 3-14 to 2-14, Carlow still ahead. The last 10 minutes were dominated by Jim Greene’s men, however, and as the five-minute notice went up, Carlow led by six, 3-18 to 2-15. Then came those two late Westmeath goals, everything back at square one.
With the momentum now Westmeath’s, they completely dominated the first period of extra-time, but failed to convert that dominance to scores. A saved penalty, keeper David Miley denying Murtagh, began the Westmeath misfortune, but it was the six wides that followed which really hurt, a solitary point from Paul Greville the only score of that half, putting Westmeath 4-16 to 3-18 ahead.
Then it was all Carlow, and four points (two huge frees by centre-back Shane Kavanagh), gave them the spoils.
Scorers for Carlow: C. Doyle 2-1; C. Hughes 0-7 (0-5 f); R. Foley 1-1; S. Kavanagh 0-4 (all frees); R. Dunbar 0-3; M. Brennan 0-2; R. Coady, D. Roberts (s/l), A. Gaule, S. Murphy, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Westmeath: B. Murtagh 2-10 (1-6 frees, 1-0 pen.); D. McNicholas 1-1; J. Shaw 1-0; E. Price 0-3; P. Greville, L. Smyth, 0-1 each.
CARLOW: D. Miley; A. Gaule, D. Shaw, J. Rodgers; E. Coady (c), S. Kavanagh, R. Coady; D. Roberts, A. Brennan; R. Dunbar, C. Hughes, M. Brennan; J. Coady, R. Foley, C. Doyle.
Subs: J. Hickey (Brennan 61); K. English (Dunbar inj. 61); D. Murphy (Foley 64); B. Lawler (J. Coady 70+4); J. Doran (R. Coady inj. 77); R. Foley (Hughes 83); R. Dunbar (Murphy 85).
WESTMEATH: M. Briody; G. Gavin, P. Greville, A. Price; B. Connaughton, D. McCormack, P. Dowdall; L. Smyth, P. Clarke; E. Price, B. Murtagh (c), A. Mitchell; R. Jackson, D. McNicholas, J. Shaw. Subs: B. Smyth (Jackson 25); C. Jordan (Greville 43); N. Gavin (G. Gavin inj. 50); P. Gilsenan (B. Smyth inj. 57); P. Greville (Mitchell 71); C. Flanagan (L. Smyth 86).
Referee: N. Cosgrove (Tipperary). *SATURDAY:
ESB All-Ireland MFC quarter-finals: Mayo v Monaghan, Longford, 2pm; Meath v Tipperary, Portlaoise, 12.30pm; Kerry v Offaly, 12.30pm, Newbridge; Tyrone v Roscommon, Longford, 3.45pm.
All-Ireland SHC play-off: Laois v Carlow; Christy Ring promotion/relegation play-off: Roscommon v Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, 3pm
All-Ireland M’B’HC quarter-finals: Mayo v Kildare, Castlebar, 7pm; Meath v Kerry, Navan, 7pm; Armagh v Westmeath, Keady, 7pm
All Ireland IHC semi-final: Galway v Kilkenny, Tullamore, 7pm.
All-Ireland MHC semi-final: Kilkenny v Tipperary, 12.15pm, Croke Park.