By Kieran Murphy
FOR the second successive occasion these sides played out a league draw in Mullingar. Two years ago in Division 4, Carlow had to rely on a last-minute goal and were happy to come away with a point. This time they were hanging on at the end. Yet they could still have won this Division 3 tie at Cusack Park on Saturday when the rampaging Sean Murphy looked to be fouled in front of the Westmeath posts about 30 meters out. The free wasn’t given and Westmeath dodged a bullet.
It wasn’t the first-time controversy raised its head. The referee was fussy and at times inconsistent. At one stage, Carlow were awarded a free about 50 meters out. The Westmeath players were at least 10 metres away from the kicker but Liam Devenney brought the ball forward.
Just before half-time the previously yellow-carded David Lynch fouled Brendan Murphy as the midfielder looked set to go past him. Sometimes these sorts of situations deserve more than a ticking. It was a score-saving foul. Lynch survived and played out the rest of the game.
In the second half a sideline ball and a 45 for Westmeath were brought forward when Carlow players were adjudged to have strayed too near the kicker. They were tough calls, particularly when one of them yielded a vital Westmeath point.
Robbie Molloy in the Carlow goal had one of those days where he found himself the centre of attention. He admitted afterwards he erred in kicking the ball to the waiting Chris Crowley who was inside the D. The ball was hopped on the 20-metre line when his error was spotted by the referee. On another occasion he was pulled up for delaying his kick-out. Yes, he is slow and methodical but having been allowed to go through his routine up to that it was harsh to pull him up when the game was finely balanced. One of those moments led to a Westmeath free which was converted. The referee didn’t set his stall early which would have been fairer to all the players.
The opening quarter was predictable enough with the home side starting well as Ger Egan converted a free and landed a point from play. Darragh Foley replied with a Carlow free and Lee Walker equalised from play.
On nine minutes the visitors’ cause received a huge boost when a slick move saw Darragh O’Brien feed Foley who found the net from close range. Neither side dominated for any length of time with Ger Egan posing the biggest threat up front for Westmeath. Apart from Foley and Walker, Brendan Murphy was the only other Carlow player to score in the first half.
Just before half-time the Westmeath gambit of playing in high ball to the edge of the square was rewarded when Finbarr Coyne rose high and punched home. Carlow had the final say in the half to lead 1-6 to 1-4 when Foley pointed that free after Lynch fouled Murphy.
Westmeath upped the ante after the interval. They made life uncomfortable for the Carlow ball carriers and didn’t allow the visitors the same amount of freedom they enjoyed in the first period. Egan converted the 45 which had been brought forward but Sean Murphy replied for Carlow. The first of two reds came on 42 minutes when Kieran Martin felled Jordan Morrissey and, in the process, picked up his second yellow.
Egan then converted a simple free when Barry John Molloy was adjudged to have picked the ball off the ground when he attempted to collect a short kick-out. It was probably the right call.
Carlow hit back and Darragh O’Brien set up Brendan Murphy who shot low and hard to the corner of the net. Against 14 players and four points up, it was Carlow’s to lose.
They nearly did so. Westmeath piled on the pressure and with 12 minutes left to play Lee Walker received a harsh straight red for a high tackle on a falling Jamie Gounoud.
That was Westmeath’s life line as they rattled off four points in a row to draw the sides level. They hit a succession of wides as Carlow defended well. Right at the end Chris Crowley received a black card which meant Carlow were down to 13 players for over five minutes of injury time.
With the game almost up Carlow built steadily and released Murphy. To be kind, the referee was nearer the action than anyone in the stand or on the sidelines. Even Westmeath connections breathed a sigh of relief when play was waved on. The bottom line at the end is that neither side will have been too unhappy with a point gained.
Carlow: Robbie Molloy; Chris Crowley, Conor Lawler, Barry John Molloy; Jordan Morrissey, Daniel St Ledger, Ciaran Moran; Brendan Murphy (1-1), Eoghan Ruth; Sean Gannon, Darragh Foley (1-4, 0-3 frees), Lee Walker (0-1); Diarmuid Walshe, Darragh O’Brien, Sean Murphy (0-1). Subs: Benny Kavanagh for Moran (26 mins), Shane Clarke for Walshe (51 mins), Danny Moran for O’Brien (61 mins), Simon Doyle for Morrissey (71 mins).
Westmeath: Eoin Carberry; Killian Daly, Ronan Wallace, Boidu Sayeh; James Dolan, Noel Mulligan, David Lynch; Denis Corroon, Sam Duncan; Joe Halligan, Callum McCormack, Finbarr Coyne (1-0); Ronan O’Toole (0-1), Kieran Martin, Ger Egan (0-9, 0-6 frees, 45). Subs: Tommy McDaniels for Halligan (h/t), Luke Loughlin for McCormack (h/t), Jamie Gonoud for Coyne (51 mins).
Referee: Liam Devenney (Mayo)