CARLOW’S glory days of Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh Cup success moved to a new level when they held the 2017 All-Ireland senior hurling champions to a draw in Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday.
Sixty years ago the sides met in Dr Cullen Park and Carlow won a league game by 5-7 to 4-9. You could argue this result surpassed the achievements of 28 February 1959. But that’s of little importance here.
No-one who witnessed Carlow’s heroics in NHL Division 1B on Sunday will be looking to make comparisons to previous Carlow wins against bigger counties. They will just be happy to have witnessed a huge performance. The home side stuck like glue to Galway who threatened to pull away on many occasions but were not allowed to impose themselves on the so-called minnows.
Carlow scored some quality points and while Marty Kavanagh refused to be drawn into his thoughts on what it meant to him to outscore the great Joe Canning, the day had to be a personal triumph for the St Mullins man.
Carlow looked in trouble early on. Thomas Monaghan fired over an easy first-minute point for the Tribesmen. Canning followed up with two frees before Kavanagh finally notched his side’s opening point from a free on six minutes.
In a strange first quarter, Canning pulled two shots wide while Carlow were guilty of some poor passing, undoing good defensive work and bringing trouble on themselves. It was Sean Kilduff, wearing number four on his back, who picked off a Galway point before Seamus Murphy took a pass from Kavanagh and shot over. The provider turned scorer when Kavanagh landed a free and a point from play. As Canning realigned his sights it was Johnny Coen who scored two points for Galway in a minute. In reply, Eddie Byrne worked hard and was rewarded with a score while Ted Joyce ran at the away defence and flicked over the bar at the scoreboard end of the ground.
Goal chances were rare. Early on Kavanagh had a half chance but he tried to off-load to a colleague instead of going himself.
Coming up to half-time Jason Flynn beat his marker at an angle on the left inside the 20m line but, spotting the danger, Brian Tracey came forward and the Galway man shot wide across the goal. A wonderful long-range David English free kept Carlow in touch but Galway had the final say of the half when Brian Concannon landed a late point. That gave Galway an 0-11 to 0-7 advantage at the break.
One minute into the second half, that lead went out to five points with a Canning free.
At that juncture Carlow hit a purple patch with James Doyle scoring a beautiful point over his shoulder at the stand side of the ground and Kavanagh converted three frees. From a Galway point of view, the white flag raised by Sean Loftus was needed.
The visitors would have been expected to take control going into the final quarter but a big hit by Kavanagh on Darren Morrissey saw the Galway defender spill the ball over the sideline. Carlow were not going away.
Twice they trailed by three points in a tension-packed end game. They had Eoin Nolan to thank when he made a brilliant intervention to prevent Thomas Monaghan breaking through. While Cathal Mannion did get the next score for Galway, the outsiders were in the game. The supposed gap in standards was not apparent. John Michael Nolan caught some great ball and Carlow endeavour was rewarded with a great fetch from Seamus Murphy who drove the ball over the bar from distance. Kavanagh levelled the game with a free.
Carlow dared to dream and even though Aidan Harte put Galway in front again, Chris Nolan scored his second point of the game to tie matters once more.
Two minutes into the allotted three of injury time Joe Canning converted a free. Surely the Carlow challenge was broken? No-one told them that and a last-ditch attack up the left gave Kavanagh a difficult opportunity to save Carlow’s day. His strike was straight and true. On the puck-out came the final whistle. Carlow were in dreamland.
Long after the game was over Joe Canning was still signing autographs for goggle-eyed young Carlow hurling fans. It was that kind of afternoon. The day the second smallest county held the mighty Galway to a draw will be remembered for a long time on Barrowside.
Carlow: Brian Tracey; Alan Corcoran, Paul Doyle, Michael Doyle; Eoin Nolan, David English (0-1 free), Richard Coady; Jack Kavanagh, Sean Whelan (0-1); John Michael Nolan, Martin Kavanagh (0-11, 0-10 free), Seamus Murphy (0-2); Ted Joyce (0-1), Edward Byrne (0-1), James Doyle (0-1). Subs: Chris Nolan (0-2) for Joyce (54 mins), Jon Nolan for Byrne (59 mins).
Galway: Colm Callanan; Darren Morrissey, Jack Fitzpatrick, Sean Loftus (0-1); Greg Lally, Padraic Mannion, Aidan Harte (0-1); Johnny Coen (0-2), Sean Kilduff (0-2); Brian Concannon (0-1), Cathal Mannion (0-1), Jason Flynn; Joe Canning (0-10, 0-8 frees), Thomas Monaghan (0-2), Davy Glennon. Subs: Sean Bleahene for Glennon (10 mins), Sean Linnane for Lally (h/t), Ronan O’Meara for Monaghan (65 mins).
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)