By Kieran Murphy
CARLOW gave themselves a fighting chance of a top four finish in National Football League Division 3 with this exciting victory over the Wee County in Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday evening.
Realistically though, with their final two games against Down and Laois still to come, it is all about getting something from those games and consolidating their place in the division.
Louth were in Carlow faces from the start. So much so, they ended up with 13 players after Declan Byrne and Ciaran Downey both picked up red cards in the final quarter.
Different teams adopt different game plans and it could be argued this was Carlow’s toughest game to date. Louth had clearly done their homework on the opposition. Right from the start the home side were never allowed to settle on the ball. As a result Carlow’s slow build-up, which other teams have allowed them space to utilise, was redundant.
The Barrowsiders adapted well and possibly Louth have done them a favour for the future, forcing them to play or pass the ball quickly in an effort to get past a side who came forward with and without the ball.
After Sam Mulroy knocked over a second-minute free, Lee Walker equalised for Carlow from play. Brendan Murphy found the posts from distance to nudge Carlow ahead and Declan Byrne replied. In hindsight the key score arrived on 11 minutes when Carlow moved quickly out of their own half and Brendan Murphy released Sean Gannon at the scoreboard end of the ground for a goal.
Minutes later Conor Crowley put pressure on Louth goalkeeper Fergal Sheeky, but when the ball was turned over the Carlow corner-forward contrived to miss from the edge of the small square.
Carlow enjoyed an excellent second quarter. Even the loss of Brendan Murphy for 10 minutes to a black card didn’t faze them. A minute before the break, Darragh Foley converted an easy free which had been brought forward after Louth verbally mixed it with a referee who, to put it mildly, was inconsistent in blowing up play for tackles.
In an effort to hold on to what they had up to the break, Carlow pulled everyone behind the ball and went in leading 1-5 to 0-4.
An early second-half Darragh Foley free extended the Carlow lead. Mulroy replied with two frees for Louth and sandwiched between those efforts was a black card for Foley.
Declan Byrne and Sean Gannon exchanged points and illustrating their intention, corner-back James Craven came forward and raised a white flag.
Then came a moment of madness from Louth’s Declan Byrne who jumped knee high into a Carlow player and picked up his second yellow card. Despite his loss, Jim McEneaney pointed for Louth to leave only a point between the teams.
In numbers Louth tackled legally but ferociously, forcing the Carlow players to get rid of the ball quickly. Sometimes the quest for possession was more like a rugby maul.
When Carlow did create space, Lee Walker was chopped to the ground on the edge of the small square as Emmet Carolan opted to give away a certain point rather than cough up a goal.
With nine minutes left Mulroy reduced the margin to a point but once again Carlow hit back with a point from Jordan Morrissey. When Darragh O’Brien combined with Murphy he could have gone for the killer goal but wisely elected to take his point.
The visitors didn’t fold. Carlow had to withstand some tremendous pressure in the final three minutes of regular time and an agonising four minutes’ injury time, which extended into five.
Mulroy’s free skimmed the crossbar and went over. Ryan Holcroft also saw his effort clear the bar.
From the kick-out the long whistle finally arrived and Carlow can now go forward with renewed confidence. Down and Laois await.
Carlow: Robert Sansom; Barry John Molloy, Shane Redmond, Conor Lawlor; Benny Kavanagh, Eoghan Ruth, Ciaran Moran; Brendan Murphy (0-1), Sean Murphy; Jordan Morrissey (0-1), Sean Gannon (1-1), Lee Walker (0-1); Conor Crowley, Darragh Foley (0-4, 0-3 frees), Daniel St Ledger (0-1 free). Subs: Chris Crowley for Molloy (50 mins), Darragh O’Brien (0-1) for Conor Crowley (52 mins), Diarmuid Walshe for Walker (59 mins).
Louth: Fergal Sheeky; Fergal Donohoe, Emmet Carolan, James Craven (0-1); Anthony Williams, Bevan Duffy, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin, Jim McEneaney (0-1); Conor Brannigan, Ciaran Downey, Eoghan Duffy; Andy McDonnell (0-1), Sam Mulroy (0-6 frees), Declan Byrne (0-2). Subs: Ryan Holcroft (0-1) for McEneaney (50 mins), Eoghan Callaghan for Clutterbuck (65 mins), Cian Callan for Donohoe (65 mins), Ross Nally for Brannigan (69 mins).
Referee: Alan Kissane (Waterford)