Carlow 2-14 Kildare 1-10
Only 70 more minutes stand between Carlow and a first Leinster senior football final since 1944 after a remarkable game that stood in marked contrast to the sporting slaughter inflicted down the road in Portlaoise.
Kildare may have lost their previous 11 games across three competitions in a run stretching close to a year but this still represented a welcome, surprising change to the normal narrative between sides who had wintered in such different surrounds.
There was no shortage of soothsayers disputing the notion of an ‘upset’ after the event but odds of 7/1 against Carlow had established just how big an ask this was for the Barrowsiders whose last championship success against their neighbours was recorded in 1953.
Turlough O’Brien’s men had at least pitched up in Tullamore with the sort of momentum that had deserted the Lilywhites having gained promotion from Division 4, losing just twice to Laois, and claimed the scalp of Louth in a championship opener.
They delivered on all that promise and more and never deviated from the defensive script that so frustrated Dublin in Portlaoise last summer. The kicker here was that they countered sometimes with pace and sometimes with patience.
And they had a remarkably reliable outlet up front.
Paul Broderick finished with 11 points, nine of them from frees. He didn’t waste a single kick at the sticks and neither did his mates. So, Carlow recorded almost 80 minutes of championship football without a single failed effort on the sticks.
“Sure, you’re not supposed to do that,” said a composed O’Brien. The mood from the Carlow boss was mostly jovial but there was an injection of intent when he explained that days like these were exactly why a tiered championship should be rejected.
“We were building towards that performance for a long time now. Even in the two league games against Laois we were very unlucky not to get a win out of either game. We have come a long way. We manage games very well.
“We are sure when we go on to the pitch of what it is that we need to do. The game has gone very tactical. We are very well prepared in that regard. It is like a game of chess, really. I hear people criticising the game as being negative and defensive and the rest of it.
“We scored 2-14 here, 2-17 the last day. These lads are like chess grand masters.” Carlow’s minors managed just two points against Kildare last week. Their seniors had that on the board within as many minutes and not even the concession of a poor seventh-minute goal to Daniel Flynn courtesy of a goalkeeping error knocked them off their stride.
An equally fortuitous three-pointer of their own just four minutes later helped in that regard, Darragh Foley getting the flimsiest of touches — or, so he said later — to a mishit Daniel St Ledger free as it spun weirdly towards the net.
Kildare were their own worst enemies, though. Their shooting was, not for the first time, appalling with one wayward effort and more for every successful attempt and Eanna O’Connor in particular had a ‘mare in that regard.
The Moorefield man had a limp 12th-minute penalty saved and wasted three frees before being called ashore towards the end of a first half that would end with Carlow 1-8 to 1-3 to the good and with the wind at their backs on the restart.
It wasn’t until the 63rd minute that the side relegated recently from Division 1 managed to claim two scores in a row but, with defender Mick O’Grady adding a late black card to a yellow, they ended the game with 14 men and on the back foot.
Conor Lawlor’s injury-time goal was mere decoration.
Cian O’Neill cut a haunted figure afterwards. The Kildare manager didn’t demur when his side’s performance was described as horrendous, or when one local reporter suggested it was the county side’s worst in 25 years.
“Yeah, shocking,” he said. “Catastrophic is the word I used.
“I honestly cannot put my finger on that performance. What did we miss in the first-half? 1-4? The thing in sport like this is that when you start to miss those easy chances, then it can start to spread throughout the team. That is my only explanation with what happened.
“We were shooting 24% in the first half and chasing the game down in the second half against the breeze and that’s a position that you never want to be in against a team that has 13, 14 men behind the ball. They did their job and we didn’t turn up for ours.” Scorers for Carlow: P Broderick (0-11, 9 frees); D Foley (1-1); C Lawlor (1-0); C Moran, S Gannon (both 0-1).
Scorers for Kildare: D Flynn (1-1); P Cribbin (0-3); K Feely (0-3 frees); K Flynn (0-2); K Cribbin (0-1).
CARLOW: R Molloy; C Crowley, S Redmond, C Lawlor; J Morrissey, D St Ledger, C Moran; S Murphy, E Ruth; S Gannon, P Broderick, D Walshe; D Foley, D O’Brien, J Murphy.
Subs: D Moran for Crowley (49); C Lawler for Walshe (55); L Walker for O’Brien (64); BJ Molloy for Foley (76).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; P Kelly, D Hyland, M O’Grady; J Byrne, E Doyle, K Flynn; K Feely, D Flynn; F Conway, K Cribbin, P Brophy; N Kelly, P Cribbin, E O’Connor.
Subs: C Healy for O’Connor (30); D Slattery for K Cribbin (53); T Moolick for Brophy (61); E Callaghan for Kelly (67).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).
Kildare’s poor shooting will likely gain a lot of attention but their indiscipline was a killer, too. The score that clinched it was a Paul Broderick free two minutes into injury-time. Death by a thousand mistakes.
The hashtag was #carlowrising during the spring and there is no sign yet that their ascent is over.
Carlow are 70 minutes away from a first Leinster senior football final since 1944 and it is another Division 4 side that stands in their way.
None of what happens now will make a jot of a difference to the Leinster Championship come the final when Dublin make off with the silver but it is encouraging to see ‘weaker’ counties generate some momentum and make a stir.
A 12th defeat on the trot for Kildare spanning a year and reversals in the championship, the league and the O’Byrne Cup. And this is the county that so many had hoped would one day put it up to the Dubs.
Many is the side that has pulled men behind the ball and tried to counter-attack at pace but few have managed to succeed so spectacularly as Carlow did yesterday, even if Kildare’s shortcomings were a major help.
BEST ON SHOW
A stunning collective performance from Carlow but one that leaned heavily on a scoring outlet and that came from Paul Broderick.
Kicked at the posts ten times and didn’t fail once with two of his haul coming from play.
Carlow meet Laois in one half of a Leinster semi-final double bill at Croke Park on Sunday, June 10.
Kildare will have to take an early detour through the qualifiers and not for the first time in recent times.
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