By Kieran Murphy
FOUR minutes into this national hurling league Division 1B first round game in a soaking Parnell Park on Saturday night, Dublin were 1-2 to 0-1 ahead and the 25-1 outsiders were looking at a thrashing.
It didn’t happen. It is hard to say why but what is certain is Carlow dug deep and pulled a huge performance which came from the very bottom of their hearts.
Dublin’s Fergal Whitely and Marty Kavanagh traded points in a couple of minutes before the home side struck for 1-1. Fiontán McGibb nudged Dublin in front and when a Carlow pass went astray just inside their own half they were undone as a Dublin counter-attack gave Darragh O’Connell time to drive forward and find the right-hand corner of the Carlow net.
It was important to reply immediately and Kavanagh converted a free which he won himself. There wasn’t a trace of an inferiority complex as Carlow steadily grew into the game. ‘Mouse’ only by name, Marty Kavanagh was outstanding, converting a succession of frees while it was his pass to Chris Nolan who released Ted Joyce. From an angle, the young corner forward was content to take his point.
As the game progressed Carlow were lifted by big performances from Jack Kavanagh, Alan Corcoran, Sean Whelan and Seamus Murphy. It is unfair to pick out individuals but as a team Carlow stuck to a game plan in sheets of rain picking out colleagues with accurate passes and defending well against the off-colour Dubliners.
Self-discipline served the outsiders well with Dublin only being awarded their first free on 24 minutes. That brought a derisive cheer from the stand but by half time John Hetherton converted three Dublin frees as Carlow led 0-11 to 1-6.
One didn’t need to be a mind-reader to know Dublin were going to get a rollicking at the break. Big-name teams don’t like being dictated to by counties they are supposed to beat comfortably.
If Carlow braced themselves for the inevitable fight-back, it wasn’t enough. The home side could have scored a goal after only 17 seconds but Fiontán McGibb had to settle for a point when he looked certain to find the net.
The Dublin tactics were clear as their big ball-carriers ran hard from deep inside their own half. Carlow struggled and it showed when Eamon Dillon scored 1-1 within seven minutes of the restart.
Carlow were looking down the barrel of a heavy defeat at this point but Chris Nolan stemmed the Dublin flow when he found the posts under pressure from just inside the opposition half. It was still all Dublin with Tomás Connolly and Riain McBride both raising white flags. Kavanagh replied with a Carlow free and despite Dublin’s supremacy, there were still only four points in it with 16 minutes remaining. Carlow were not out of it yet.
They could have been if Alan Corcoran hadn’t made a brilliant block on an incoming Dublin forward while Brian Tracey in the Carlow goal came forward and threw his body at the sliotar to stop what looked like a certain goal.
With eight minutes to go a rattled Dublin side only led by 2-14 to 0-18 after Kavanagh had found the posts from a tight angle. The next score was vital. In these David versus Goliath matches, fortune tends to tip her scales in the direction of the favourites.
Not for the first time, the Carlow defence was opened. This time Eamon Dillon found Donal Burke free on the left. The corner forward, who had come into the game at half-time and had already scored four points from play, collected and shot past the helpless Tracey.
For a few moments there was an element of doubt about whether the goal would stand as the referee consulted with his umpires. Afterwards it was revealed the goal scorer had actually fouled the ball, but unfortunately it wasn’t picked up by the match officials.
An Oisin O’Rourke free finished the scoring with a Dublin team happy to get their league season off to a good start against a Carlow team who gave little away in defeat.
Dublin: Alan Nolan; Paddy Smyth, Eoghan O’Donnell, James Madden; Chris Crummey, Sean Moran, Shane Barrett; Jake Malone, Darragh O’Connell (1-0); Fergal Whitely (0-1), John Hetherton (0-4, 0-3 frees), Riain McBride (0-1); Fiontán McGibb (0-2), Liam Rushe, Eamonn Dillon (1-1). Subs: Tomás Connolly (0-1) for Madden (8 mins), Donal Burke (1-4) for Whitely (h/t), Danny Sutcliffe for Rushe (47 mins), Glenn Whelan for Malone (60 mins), Oisin O’Rourke (0-1 free) for McGibb (67 mins)
Carlow: Brian Tracey; Alan Corcoran, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Eoin Nolan, David English, Richard Coady; Jack Kavanagh, Sean Whelan; John Michael Nolan, Marty Kavanagh (0-12, 0-9 frees), Seamus Murphy (0-1); Ted Joyce (0-2), Eddie Byrne, Chris Nolan (0-2). James Doyle (0-1) for Murphy (42 mins), Jon Nolan for Joyce (48 mins), Richie Kelly for E Nolan (57 mins), Ger Coady for M Doyle (61 mins), Jack Murphy for Byrne (62 mins).
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).