By John Foley
On the great stage that is Croke Park, the Carlow camogie team turned in a performance for the ages as they clinched a historic All-Ireland Premier Junior final victory over Armagh on Sunday.
The winning margin of 4-10 to 2-7 tells you about Carlow’s dominance at the final whistle, but it does not reveal the subtleties of this magnificent victory for a determined and hard-working group of players.
Trailing by a point after a cagey first half, Mark Brennan’s charges turned in a power-packed second half to outscore their opponents by 3-6 to 1-2 as they closed out a much-deserved victory.
Ciara Quirke produced a player-of-the-match winning performance full of power and precision as she bagged three goals and two points of her team’s total, while the fearless running of 16-year-old substitute Rachel Sawyer lit up the stage in the second half.
But in a physical encounter, this victory would never have been achieved without every single player in a Carlow jersey turning up for duty. When bodies had to be put on the line and interventions made, Carlow produced throughout the pitch.
Roared on by their fantastic supporters, the Carlow team grew into the occasion and by the final minutes of the game they could relax and enjoy a special moment in their sporting lives.
“They’ll probably walk a little bit taller now and rightly so,” said manager Mark Brennan of his players after the game. “I know every manager says their team trains hard, but I’ve been a county player and I’ve never trained as hard as these players. It’s been consistent for two years now.
“In the second half the girls threw off the shackles a bit and just went for it.”
And when they turned on the style, Armagh, unbeaten all season up to this game, had no answer. At the final whistle, Croke Park rocked to a rousing rendition of Follow Me Up To Carlow as the Kay Mills Cup was secured.
It’s impossible not to get swept along by this group of players. Their infectious enthusiasm, good humour and genuine warmth for each other makes them fantastic ambassadors for the county. Of course, that they are also a team with a record of producing massive performances on the biggest stage makes the bond between them all the tighter.
Carlow are All-Ireland Premier Junior champions with a performance as polished as it was deserved. How sweet is that.