Carlow 0-14 Louth 0-13
Carlow secured their first championship victory since 2006 in dramatic fashion with a 72nd minute winner by Brendan Murphy.
The former Sydney Swans man produced a thunderous second half performance despite struggling with an ankle injury and it was fitting that he produced the final, critical kick of a pulsating game in O’Moore Park.
Carlow are now just one game away from a Leinster final now, although the free-scoring Wexford will be favourites to prevail when they meet in a fortnight’s time at Croke Park.
Luke Dempsey’s men were by far the superior outfit in the opening half, at the end of which they led by 0-8 to 0-5.
Trevor O’Reilly made a brilliant early save from Liam Slevin before Patrick Hickey put the winners ahead in the seventh minute.
Shane Lennon levelled after a nice pass from Aaron Hoey but with Darragh Foley, Murphy and Thomas Walsh cleaning up around midfield, Carlow pushed on. Daniel St Ledger (free) and the lively Seán Gannon stretched their advantage and by the 25th minute, the lead was four after St Ledger lofted over following another well-constructed move.
Paddy Keenan came into the game powerfully in the final 10 minutes and though he wasted a very easy opportunity for a score, he made no mistake soon afterwards.
Louth were struck a heavy blow when Dessie Finnegan received his second yellow card in the 35th minute after hand-tripping Gannon. St Ledger converted the free and though Derek Maguire responded just before the short whistle, there was no doubting Carlow’s dominance.
Louth were in trouble given their numerical disadvantage and the fact they were playing into the wind but they were a different team after the resumption, with points from two Lennon frees and Derek Crilly drawing them to within a point of Carlow by the 42nd minute.
Ten minutes later, they were three points clear as Keenan, Lennon (two frees) and Ronan Carroll hit a bewildered Carlow for points after Darragh Foley had converted his second free.
Brian Murphy stopped the rot with 12 minutes remaining but Lennon quickly made restored the three point advantage, although crucially, Conor Lawlor did very well to deny the full-forward a goal-scoring opportunity.
Louth were quite wasteful in this period and they were made to pay as Brendan Murphy dug deep into his reserves to inspire a famous success for Carlow.
The Rathvilly giant launched a massive point from a sideline on the right before reducing the margin to one with five minutes remaining.
Time was almost up when St Ledger sent Carlow fans into raptures by converting a 50m free to level proceedings, but that was nothing like the celebrations that followed with time almost up, when Paul Cashin and Johnny Murphy showed commendable composure to make sure the right man had the ball at the critical time, to secure victory for their side.
Carlow: T O’Reilly; A Murphy, C Lawlor, B Kavanagh; P Cashin, S Redmond, K Nolan; Brendan Murphy 0-3(1 sideline), D Foley 0-2(fs); P Hickey 0-1, T Walsh, E Finnegan 0-1; Brian Murphy 0-2(1f), S Gannon 0-1, D St Ledger 0-4(3fs). Subs: P Murphy for Kavanagh (54); C Mullins for Finnegan (60); J Murphy for Foley (63); E Ruth for Hickey (68)
Louth: S Connor; D Byrne, A Hoey, D Finnegan; R Finnegan, M Fanning, L Slevin; P Keenan 0-2, B Donnelly 0-1(f); D Crilly 0-1, D Reid 0-1, A Reid; D Maguire 0-1, S Lennon 0-6(4fs), JP Rooney. Subs: A McDonnell for Rooney (ht); R Carroll 0-1 for D Reid (ht); P Smith for McDonnell inj (62); S Fitzpatrick for Crilly (70)
Referee: D Fahy (Longford)