By Kieran Murphy
AFTER the sense of despondency which had descended in local football circles after Carlow were relegated back to Division 4 of the national football league, this performance in the first round of the Leinster minor football championship at IT Carlow last Tuesday provided a real lift on this side of the Barrow.
In truth Carlow should have won this game. They played the better football in the first half, created a number of goal chances and should have been ahead at the interval rather than getting involved in a dog-fight at 0-5 each.
In the second half, well-worked points from Darragh Nolan and Dylan Doyle nudged Carlow in front and while Ciaran O’Neill narrowed the gap for Laois, the home side went three points clear when Doyle and Nolan converted frees.
There were still 22 minutes to go but Carlow were unable to go for the jugular. They had half chances to put huge doubts in Laois minds. In shades of events in the first half they were never able to go four clear.
From the start the game ebbed and flowed. Dylan Doyle put Carlow a point up while at the other end, a high ball could have gone anywhere as Ciaran Burke punched over.
Both sides gave their all. Carlow played some great football and were never afraid to build from deep at speed. In one such move Carlow’s Patrick McDonnell and Burke collided with onlookers wincing in sympathy as the two player hit the deck. It was a form of miracle both of them returned to the action.
Anthony Keating slotted a further point for Carlow. Colin Dunne replied for the visitors. It was that kind of game but who knows how Laois would have reacted if Billy Lawlor’s overcooked pass in front of goal didn’t fall into the hands of a colleague with the Laois backs desperately scrambling. Then from the kick-out the visiting defence made a hash of the kick-out and Michael O’Connell in the Laois goal had to fly-kick the ball out over the end-line for a 45.
Laois lived on their nerves. Especially when a speculative lob into the small square caused panic in the defence as the ball glanced off the upright and was deflected out. Nolan converted the resultant 45 but ominously Laois had the final say of the half when Conor Goode pointed.
This trend continued in the second half. Carlow maintained an advantage for most of the second half and with a minute to go on the clock they still led 0-10 to 0-9. With so many stoppages there was always going to be plenty of injury time. Riohan Murphy equalised on 60 minutes for Laois. Carlow went back up the field and drew a free which Dylan Doyle converted.
Laois refused to countenance defeat. Why should they? They had been looking down the barrel of the gun for most of the game but were still not down and out. They drew a succession of fouls from the home side. Eventually one was to prove costly and from just inside the Carlow 45m line Brian Whelan took on the responsibility.
Showing excellent composure his effort was straight and true. Laois had escaped with a draw. Carlow were disappointed but on reflection the positives will far outweigh the negatives.
Carlow: Cian Kavanagh (Leighlinbridge); Sean Moran (Clonmore), Billy Lawlor (Clonmore), Jamie Doyle (Old Leighlin); Patrick McDonnell (Bagenalstown Gaels), Shane Buggy (Éire Óg), Mark Behan (Éire Óg); Dan Brennan (Palatine), Jack McCullagh (Bagenalstown Gaels); Fiachra Fitzpatrick (Mount Leinster Rangers), Ben Crotty (Éire Óg), Patrick Regan (Tinryland); Dylan Doyle (0-6, 0-3 frees Clonmore), Darragh Nolan (0-3, free, 45, Bagenalstown Gaels), Anthony Keating (0-2, Éire Óg). Subs: Robert Bulmer (Clonmore) for Crotty (37 mins), Darragh McKernan (Clonmore) for J Doyle (49 mins), Adam Smith (Clonmore) for Moran (62 mins), Oisin Dillon (Bagenalstown Gaels) for Keating (64 mins).
Laois: Michael O’Connell (Portlaoise); Simon Fingleton (Park Ratheniska), Nathan Little (Courtwood), Eddie Critchley (Portlaoise); Jamie Kelly (St Joseph’s), Sean Greene (Emo), Mark Kehoe (0-1, Spink); Ben Brennan (Portlaoise), Conor Goode (0-1, Stradbally); Rioghan Murphy (0-2, Portarlington), Colin Dunne (0-2, 0-1 free, Arles-Kileen), Paul O’Flynn (Courtwood); Oisin Hooney (St Joseph’s), Ciaran Burke (0-1, Crettyard), Brian Whelan (0-3, 0-2 frees, Ballyroan Abbey). Subs: Ciaran O’Neill (0-1, Stradbally) for O’Flynn (h/t), Paddy Hosey (Emo) for Brennan (40 mins), Kevin Swayne (Portlaoise) for Dunne (49 mins).
Referee: David O’Connor (Dublin)