Carlow recorded their first ever away win in Division One hurling today, and they couldn’t have done it in more dramatic circumstances as they came from 11 points down to outfight Offaly in Bord na Móna O’Connor Park, condemning the Faithful County to relegation to Division Two next year.
Their win was made all the more impressive by the fact that they did so while hurling with just 14 men for an hour of the game, following Eddie Byrne’s retaliation against Niall Houlihan that led to a straight red card for the Mount Leinster Rangers player after 10 minutes.
A significant half-time lead was always likely given the strength of the wind, and when Carlow goalkeeper Brian Tracey won the toss and elected to play into it, that decision raised a few eyebrows.
It seemed like absolutely the wrong call when Offaly roared into an early lead, moving 1-6 to 0-1 ahead after 14 minutes. Joe Bergin touched in their early goal, Shane Kinsella picked off a great score from long range and Shane Dooley showed his class with a glorious strike from out on the left wing.
Dooley could have put Offaly into a double figure lead after 18 minutes when he was picked out by a great cross-field pass from Bergin, but his attempt on goal was blasted inches over the crossbar.
Gradually, Carlow were beginning to settle into the game and while they only posted three first half points, they stopped the bleeding at the other end and even with a man down, 1-11 to 0-3 was a retrievable deficit, albeit one that still looked intimidating.
After the game Colm Bonnar admitted that he new his side would need one goal, possibly two, and when those scores came, they did so in a devastating fashion from an Offaly point of view.
Twice long balls were sent sailing into the Offaly full back line, first with just two minutes gone in the second half and again ten minutes later. Twice Offaly let the sliothar hit the deck, twice Carlow pounced to deliver huge scores. Seámus Murphy kicked in the first, Chris Nolan adding the second as the nervousness in the Offaly ranks was palpable.
All across the field, Carlow were exerting huge pressure on the Faithful county. Eoghan Cahill used the short puckout option quite frequently but Offaly’s ability to work the ball up the field was restricted by a series of unforced errors in possession, while long restarts were gobbled up by a ravenous Carlow half back line, led by Richard English at the heart of the defence.
Point by point Carlow chipped away at the lead until Seán Whelan earned a free after 67 minutes that allowed Martin Kavanagh to give them their first lead of the game.
John Michael Nolan added another and while Joe Bergin responded with a free, time ran out on the Faithful men as Carlow held on to preserve their top flight status.
Martin Kavanagh 0-8 (0-4f), Chris Nolan 1-4, Seamus Murphy 1-1, John Michael Nolan 0-1.
Joe Bergin 1-7 (0-4f, 0-1 ’65), Shane Dooley 0-3, Kevin Connolly & Shane Kinsella 0-2, Eoghan Cahill (f) & Kevin Dunne 0-1 each.
Brian Tracey; Michael Doyle, Paul Doyle, Alan Corcoran; Kevin McDonald, David English, Richard Coady; Jack Kavanagh, Seán Whelan; Seamus Murphy (1-01), Martin Kavanagh (0-08, 0-04 frees), John Michael Nolan; Chris Nolan (1-04), Eddie Byrne, James Doyle.
Jack Murphy for J Kavanagh (34), Ted Joyce for J Doyle (60), Jon Nolan for J Murphy (66) Offaly: Eoghan Cahill; Paddy Rigney, Niall Houlihan, Ben Conneely; Damien Egan, Pat Camon, Aidan Treacy; Shane Kinsella, Colm Gath; Kevin Dunne, Sean Dolan, Colin Egan; Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Kevin Connolly.
Andy Flynn for Houlihan (8), Dermot Shortt for Treacy (half-time), Conor Langton for Connolly (56), Mark Egan for Gath (70), Craig Taylor for Conneely (70).
John Keenan (Wicklow)