No need for a telescope when Colm Bonnar scans a metaphorical eye over the hurling landscape in Carlow.
The heartland is an afterthought at the thin end of a disappearing wedge of county between the borders of Kilkenny and Wexford. Draw a line across the map from the Rower-Inistioge club to Rathnure and your pencil would run through St Mullins, Carlow’s most successful hurling club.
Mount Leinster Rangers, the current champions, are just a 10 -mile drive away, Bagenalstown and Myshall another 15 minutes or so again behind a wheel. You could cover the span at cruising speed in the time it takes for an episode of Home and Away.
“Really, that’s where we are picking from,” said Bonnar, ahead of Carlow’s Leinster Championship opener away to Galway in Pearse Stadium. “They do need to expand it but how Carlow go about that is a long-term vision. They are conscious of it.
“In intermediate hurling, the teams that get to the final are the two second teams of Saint Mullins and Mount Leinster Rangers, which is not a good sign.
“That just shows the standard isn’t there. The present group of players, I don’t know how they got themselves to here.
“We do have two or three U20s in and they are of a very good standard,
If there was a few of them shipping in again the following years you would see Carlow sustaining what they have. It will be difficult, and more difficult if the GAA doesn’t promote it more within the counties.
People have tried to do their bit. Meetings have been held, more development officers brought in, and some efforts have been made to solidify a link between the game and local schools, but the raw material at Bonnar’s disposal is in a frightfully short supply.
And it makes their current surroundings all the more remarkable.
Winning the Joe McDonagh Cup last summer secured their place in the senior All-Ireland championship this summer and they followed that up by retaining their place in Division 1B of the Allianz League during the spring.
Now comes the hard part.
There is nothing surer than the fact that Carlow will take a heavy beating, maybe more than one, in the weeks ahead and when they do, it will reopen the debate on structures, size, and other vast imponderables.
Bonner has his own ideas, chief among the fact that the top tier should be expanded come championship time to usher in more of their ilk — a Laois or a Westmeath — so that more of the ‘weaker’ counties can bench press with the biggest and best of them.
But the actual task of facing these big guns is of more immediate and obvious interest. Carlow drew with Galway at home, and pushed Dublin during the league, but there is an understanding that their supposed superiors will be running at a higher gear this time around.
“We’re trying to train them and to learn to stay in a game for as long as we can,” said Bonner.
“Before, you might be dominated by a Laois or a Westmeath for 10 or 15 minutes and they might not put a big score on you.
“If you are dominated for that length of time by a Galway or Kilkenny, they will put a big score you so that’s where we have to be a lot more clever in terms of how we get back and how we defend and how we hang in a game. You can’t buy that. That’s experience.
“The first game is like an All-Ireland final for us.”