By Kieran Murphy
COLM BONNAR admitted this relegation play-off victory over Offaly has given him more satisfaction than anything he has already achieved with Carlow in his time as manager.
Not even winning the Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh Cups in Croke Park in consecutive years can match what his team did in Tullamore on Sunday.
When asked where this victory ranked, he first put into context where Carlow have come from over the course of the last two years.
“I just felt the games we got against Dublin, the games we got against Galway and Waterford showed us how we had to prepare. We had to up the performance, the training, the psychology side,” he said.
“We really set our stall out at the start of the year. This was a goal we had to achieve. Even at the talk at half-time, they (the players) couldn’t fathom it. They couldn’t face going back training next November knowing they were going back to Division 2. There was huge pressure on everyone. There was huge pressure on Offaly. They have got a lot of bad press over the last couple of years but they are a hugely competitive team. They are a very proud group of players wearing that jersey today and last Sunday,” stated Bonnar before finally coming to his conclusion.
“To answer the question, I would say it is better than anything we have achieved so far,” he confirmed.
The new league system means Carlow are now a top-12 team with an equal standing in the league which wasn’t the case this year where the teams in Division 1B were considered to be inferior to Division 1A. Galway and Limerick winning the last two All-Ireland senior titles from Division 1B caused a rethink at the highest level. Thus the new league format for 2020 sees Division 1 Group A and Division 1 Group B (see panel on page 3).
It means the world to Bonnar and the players to be where they are now
“The fact we are up there again means we keep the momentum going forward. It is important as a hurler to have a challenge and what bigger challenge than to be in the new division one league. It really is like a promotion and in many cases, it surpasses what we have done so far in terms of staying up.”
Offaly looked set to hold onto their status at Carlow’s expense. The Faithful exploited the 14-man Carlow team for long spells. The two second-half Carlow goals may have come from long deliveries but with Offaly’s numerical advantage Carlow played a short passing game with players working hard to get into positions to take the off-loads.
“I thought after 20 minutes of the first half we were getting ourselves into it. We had a couple of scoring opportunities which we didn’t take but I felt if we could do that we could start hurling with the breeze.”
Bonnar’s optimism was rewarded and the two goals in the third quarter gave Carlow a huge incentive.
“We played the ball around well and we had to take scoring opportunities when we had them. The most important thing which happened out there was we got two goals in quick succession in the second half.
“That gave us the confidence. It would have been very hard to bring down an 11-point lead without getting goals. When we got the two goals that gave us the motivation to carry on and drive into Offaly,” agreed Bonnar.
“It would have been a big downer. This was a goal we needed to achieve. We couldn’t blame anybody if we didn’t. Obviously, the championship is another story and what we can do in that, we don’t really know. It will give us a pep in our step going into training.”