John Murphy can pinpoint the exact moment the penny dropped.
Turlough O’Brien had a pair of league runs and one two-and-out championship campaign under his belt as Carlow manager by the time the county met Louth in Portlaoise in a Leinster Championship quarter-final in 2016.
What transpired was all too familiar.
Laois and Longford had seen Carlow off with 17 and 10 points to spare respectively the summer before and, though they trailed Louth by just two towards the end of that 2016 opener, they would leak two late goals on the way to another 10-point trimming.
Enough was enough.
“We just basically had two defenders.
“Everyone was caught up the field. They were playing a defensive game plan and we fell hook, line, and sinker for it. Then we played Wicklow and we set up a more defensive structure and we beat them in the qualifier.”
A depleted Carlow side would fall seven points short of Cavan the next day but they left Breffni Park with different regrets.
With Down trainer Stephen Poacher already on board for the odd session, hopes were high for the following year. Such confidence was well-founded. Wexford were undone in the provincial preliminary round in 2017 and Dublin frustrated for yawning chunks of their quarter-final before succumbing to a 12-point defeat that fed into a three-game run in the qualifiers.
It was all a long way removed from the disappointment that had become habitual for the likes of Murphy who first joined the panel under Liam Hayes away back in 2005 and made his senior debut three seasons later.
Carlow had played 26 championship games in the time from his first involvement with the squad through to the lightbulb moment in the qualifiers against Wicklow two seasons ago. All bar six had been lost and 13, half, by double-figure margins.
The nadir was a 7-13 to 0-6 loss to Meath in their own patch in 2014.
Murphy didn’t feature that day but he is one of the dozen or so players on the current panel that have continuously answered the call throughout the current decade, regardless of how forlorn the cause may have appeared in deepest winter.
It was ironic, then, that their progress of recent times under O’Brien and Poacher appeared to have been jeopardised prior to the championship when star midfielder Brendan Murphy opted to spend his summer Stateside.
The reality has been different. Louth were dealt with clinically almost a month ago before the Barrowsiders claimed an impressively concocted a seven-point defeat of a Kildare side that had spent the spring in Division One.
Beat Laois on Sunday and they’ve made a first Leinster final since 1944.
“Any other year, if Brendan didn’t commit you’d be thinking, ‘Jesus, massive loss’,” said Murphy.
“But this year it’s not as big a loss as it would have been three or four years ago, because you’d be relying on Brendan back then to put on a big show.
“Now he is just one of 15, he just has a job and a position. So, say Diarmuid (Walshe), who didn’t even play that much in the league, he came on as a sub for the last 10 minutes in games but started the Louth game and scored 1-2 and could have got more.
“So, we can lose someone like (Murphy) and just replace him.”
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