By Kieran Murphy
IF a week is a long time in politics then surely those same seven days must seem even longer in the fortunes of Carlow GAA teams.
Last Sunday week the Carlow footballers left Mullingar in jubilant mood. They rescued an improbable draw in their national league clash with their hosts after conceding a late goal before swooping for one themselves.
A draw was a good result but the manner in which they responded to adversity at different stages during the game suggested a corner had been turned.
A week later the hurlers travelled to the same venue with many astute observers suggesting they would do well to avoid defeat.
In this newspaper, contributors stressed it was vital they got something out of the first two games. But away to Westmeath? Scary.
With the Carlow footballers playing London at 1pm, the few Barrowside supporters and officials in Mullingar knew things were not going well. Word filtered through that, while the wind was strong, Carlow were not performing and were very much the authors of their own misfortune. Social media revealed London were 2-11 to 0-7 ahead at half-time.
As both the Westmeath and Carlow hurling panels faced up to each other there was a sense of foreboding among Carlow folk. The imminent defeat of the footballers was mood crushing.
It wasn’t helped when the Westmeath hurlers sauntered into a 1-2 to 0-0 lead in the opening six minutes while at one stage, Carlow trailed by seven. The bad news continued to trickle in about the footballers as the hurlers went about saving their hides.
Men stood up and were counted in Cusack Park as the hurlers overturned a four-point deficit at half-time before going on to win an absorbing encounter in desperately cold weather. It didn’t matter that Westmeath didn’t produce their best form. Carlow had earned two points and could look forward to the visit of Antrim next Sunday.
Now there’s the rub. The footballers were in the exact same position seven days previously. There was a buoyancy in football circles after Westmeath. Even more so when word came through that the Carlow minor football team had beaten Dublin in the Leinster minor football league on Saturday.
Then along came London who burst the Carlow bubble. No doubt the seniors will be aware of the derogatory and hard-hitting comments aimed in their direction in the immediate aftermath of defeat. Some of the criticism aimed in their direction will be personal and hurtful.
Supporters are disappointed and must be stunned by the manner of the defeat. Think how the players feel. They will hardly have slept on Sunday night. This defeat will haunt them. It was a tough, tough day.
The squad were in good fettle and had trained well during the week. They were looking forward to Sunday. And then this no-show. What happened? Opinions are one thing. Has anybody got some definite answers?
It was probably Turlough O’Brien’s most disappointing day as manager of the Carlow team. Knowing him, he will spend much of the week wondering where it went wrong. You can be certain Sunday was a sleepless night for him too. The preparation of a squad has been meticulous and the introduction of trainer Stephen Poacher from Down looked to have been the catalyst for a new dawn for Carlow football.
Now it is back to the proverbial drawing board. Next up is Limerick in Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday week (25 February).
Saturday night football promised to attract a big crowd before the London debacle. With Westmeath hammering the Shannonsiders 1-18 to 0-12 over the weekend, Carlow’s third round game takes on huge significance.
Red-carded in the London game, Paul Broderick is set to miss Limerick. He scored 1-5 against Westmeath and 0-7 against London before his late sending off. He will be missed.
Where to from here? The footballers need support more than ever. They didn’t go out to deliberately play badly. Like the Irish rugby team against Scotland, things happen where collectively a body of players don’t perform.
It sounds cheesy but now more than ever supporters must suppress their disappointment and continue to support Carlow football. Despite the London result, something positive was happening.
The players don’t want sympathy, but a bit of empathy and a few words of encouragement would go a long way to healing those London wounds and setting them up for bigger challenges ahead.