By Kieran Murphy
IN his early years as Carlow senior football manager, Turlough O’Brien always said there was little to divide the 16 teams in Divisions 2 and 3 of the national football league.
With results having fallen the way they have so far in Leinster this year, there is a lot of evidence to support his claim. Meath were promoted to Division 1 this year while Offaly just about held onto their place in Division 3.
Yet in the first round of the championship, Offaly were only undone by 1-13 to 0-14 when Meath scored 1-4 between the 56th and 72nd minutes. The goal was a soft one when James Conlon looked to be settling for a point, but when the ball dropped short Bryan McMahon deflected it in.
With the winners in Navan set to play Carlow in the next round, a number of the players and management team travelled to Navan to watch the game. Selector Tommy Wogan was not overly impressed with Meath.
“Impressed with them in the sense that when Offaly put it up to them they responded. Offaly may have left it behind them,” suggested Wogan who said the loss through injury of Anton O’Sullivan and Kilmacud club player Shane Horan midway through the second half hurt Offaly.
“The goal was messy in that the goalkeeper could have dealt with it better. It spilled. The corner forward got his hand to it and pushed it into the net. That gave Meath the momentum to see out the game. Offaly probably ran out of a bit of legs too.”
Meath have a huge football tradition and have a reputation for loving a dog-fight.
“Having said that it showed a bit of character in Meath in that they dug it out in the end. Probably typical of Meath teams over the years with a never-say -die attitude,” said Wogan.
The Carlow selector also claims that, apart from Dublin, there is little between any of the teams in Leinster.
“All you have to do is look at the previous night and see how near Wicklow ran Kildare. Wicklow asked a lot of questions of Kildare too. Cian O’Neill [the Kildare manager], I am sure, would be very unhappy with the Kildare performance and would be very concerned going into the next round.”
Now Carlow only have eyes for Meath.
“Training has been very good. No injuries and all good to go. The lads have been absolutely brilliant. Credit to them. They have knuckled down and have put the league behind them. They have got down to training and trained really hard. At the end of the day this is championship now and they can’t wait for it. All is good,” says Wogan who states the ongoing issue of the suspension of Turlough O’Brien, Steven Poacher and Brendan Murphy is not upsetting the panel.
“I am doing it (training the team) along with Damien Sheehan and Benji O’Brien,” he says.
“We have been around for the last four years and the lads are very familiar with us. We are singing off the same hymn-sheet. What I would be doing would be very similar to what Turlough would do or what Steven would do. Very little has changed. There is very little disruption to training.”
Last weekend the senior hurlers ran Galway to six points. On Saturday evening Carlow will be looking to beat Meath. Wogan says the individual successes of both codes has rubbed off on each other.
“It is great for the hurlers to see them doing so well. For a small county to be producing the teams we are producing is a credit to all the coaches in the hurling and football clubs in the county.”
In contrast to a number of years ago where numbers were low with some of the underage intercounty panels, now the respective managers are left with difficult decisions as to who to leave off. Wogan says that is down to the senior teams winning games.
Sunday presents another chance to help continue with the Carlow Rising phenomenon.
“Everybody wants a team to follow and if you are going well – whether it is hurling or football – it can only be good for both codes in the county. Young lads will grab on to that. Huge credit to a small county when you see what we are doing. You go down the road to Kilkenny or Wexford, the hurling is going well but the football isn’t. We are doing well in both codes which is great.”