JOHN DIVILLY: It doesn’t have to be a classic to be memorable and intriguing

A Championship opener at Dr Cullen Park may not have been one for the purists to salivate over, but the intrigue was constant and the reward for Carlow far greater than the immediacy of a Leinster quarter-final date with Dublin. That may be daunting, but it can wait, writes John Divilly.

JOHN DIVILLY: It doesn’t have to be a classic to be memorable and intriguing

Their composure, and more importantly, their discipline in the second half improved significantly and sufficiently yesterday to secure them a first Leinster championship success since 2011. Lady Luck shined on Carlow at vital times also, but they fully deserved their luck and scoring 2-17 showcased a lot of their potential talents.

Was it a great spectacle of Gaelic football? Maybe not, but, for me, there were several brilliant pieces of individual skill and great team moves. The kick-out strategies from both sides I found intriguing and the athletic prowess of both was a testament to their hard pre-season work.

How and why did Carlow win? Wexford scored 10 frees yesterday out of 2-13, six of these came in the first half. Carlow played with 13 players inside their own 45m line once they lost possession. Wexford were patient and waited for their chance to spot a gap. Some lovely Wexford sidesteps and some clumsy Carlow tackles presented Ben Brosnan and Ciaran Lyng with easy kickable frees. They duly converted these in the first half. The question was: why did Carlow foul so much?

When you play a defensive system with 13 players behind the ball, it can be very easy for communication lines to get crossed. With 13 players inside a small area, what you need is the two chiefs and 11 indians philosophy, ie two players calling the shots and 11 tracking and harassing opposition into spills, over-carrying, dropped shots, wides and clean dispossessions. In the first half yesterday, Carlow were very eager and obviously nervous and some of their tackling technique was poor. They reassessed this at half-time and only conceded four frees in the second period.

Carlow grew in confidence as the second half progressed and could sense a victory. Their technique was much crisper and they forced a lot of turnovers from Wexford. So how did the visitors score two second half goals? The old- fashioned route one, that’s how. Two high balls went into PJ Banville. He got a flick on the first one which produced a marvellous save from Craig Kearney, but PJ scurried the rebound to the net. The second goal again came from PJ knocking down a high ball, with Naomhan Rossiter on hand to blast to the net. It was the only two goal chances they created, and they were lucky goals in my opinion. They never carved open Carlow for a real goal chance. Wexford had no real one-on-one or two-on-two opportunities. They couldn’t, due to the blanket defence, but they didn’t think on their feet in the second half, either. They should have tried a few more in on top of Banville.

How many goal chances had Carlow, in comparison? I recall Carlow having six good goal chances in the game, and they took two smashing ones in the second half. In the first half Eoghan Ruth, who probably should have taken his point, cut inside his man and hit a tame shot at Conor Swaine. Sean Murphy, who sped around the pitch like Lightning McQueen all day, collected a pass from Brendan Murphy, powered 50 metres towards the town goal, hit a rasper from just inside the 20m line only to see it cannon off the crossbar and kiss the goal-line. Paul Broderick pointed the rebound.

In the second half, Gary Kelly cut through the Wexford defence, but rifled the ball just over the crossbar. Sean Murphy and first-half substitute Sean Gannon played a great one–two, leaving a two-on-two situation for Carlow to exploit, but a little hesitation on Gannon’s behalf caused an unforced error and the chance was gone.

Carlow’s first goal came from a sublime Brendan Murphy catch. He was fouled, a quick free to Sean Gannon, a pop pass into the wing back Danny Moran and a bullet to the net. Carlow’s second goal again came from their kick-out. This time a great mark from their captain Darragh Foley, a quick foot-pass into Brendan Murphy. The crowd were roaring “point, take your point”, but Brendan steamrolled on and unleashes another gem.

In the first half, Wexford had no choice but to go short, because after 18 minutes they lost Daithi Waters to a very harsh black card and, shortly afterwards, they lost Colm Kehoe to injury. They had no real choice, but to go short on kickouts or into little pockets in their half-back line. The alternative? Kick it long, where the two Murphy’s were on fire. Carlow pushed up and squeezed them and forced some good turnovers.

In the second half, Wexford continued to go short and, for some strange reason, Carlow allowed them to gain easy possession and launch attack after attack. It worked out for Carlow, because their tackling got better and, when they turned Wexford over, they punished them on the scoreboard.

However, I presume they will change this tactic against Dublin.

For their own kickout, Carlow went long and it worked a treat. Why? Firstly, Craig Kearney’s intelligent decision-making and, secondly, Brendan Murphy showed his true colours. Apart from some sublime catches, his intelligent use of a hand-flick in mid-air set up several Carlow scores. His vision and awareness of his support runners around him enabled Carlow to attack with menace and purpose. He took all the flak and usual championship physicality in his stride yesterday. He showed his box-to-box capabilities, his scoring and passing skills. His input in the last three minutes was to score a goal, catch a high ball on his 20m line and finally block down a Wexford’s point attempt.

His reward for all this hard-work will be to test himself against Brian Fenton in a few weeks. That potential match-up alone will be worth the admission fee.

Another potential great match-up will be Paul Broderick v Philly McMahon. Broderick, as I wrote here on Saturday, is a potential match winner. His 10-point haul was a superb display of an attacker who loves his football. He was asked to play ‘the Shane Long’ lone wolf role. He never panicked, continued to make the hard runs and, when he got the ball into his hand, the Wexford defenders were nervous. He’s got a lovely sidestep and when he pulls the trigger, he’s got a sweet left peg.

Tactically, Carlow made two excellent calls yesterday. Barry John Molloy came in for Chris Crowley just before half time. Chris received a yellow card after 30 seconds and was very lucky it wasn’t a black. He fouled PJ Banville off the ball just before half-time and Turlough O’Brien made the smart call, even if it’s a difficult call to take a guy off who’s playing well. Barry John played cleverly in the second period. The other smart switch was the introduction of Sean Gannon after 20 minutes. He was brilliant. When I say brilliant, he was switched on from his first touch. He was disappointed not to start, but he never showed it and his performance typified the Carlow spirit.

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