By Kieran Murphy
THERE was a time when it seemed inconceivable a Carlow senior hurling club team would play in a Leinster final. In fact Carlow teams competed in the intermediate provincial and All-Ireland championships. So when Mount Leinster Rangers beat Oulart-The Ballagh in the 2013 senior final, it showed Carlow clubs could compete at the highest level. St Mullins captain Marty Kavanagh agrees Rangers showed the way.
“To do what Rangers did gave a lift to not just us but every club in Ireland. You can achieve these things with the right attitude and the right work ethic,” he said. “They set a standard in 2013. They got to the All-Ireland final in 2014. Then we rose up. They didn’t win a county final again until 2017.”
Since 2006, only Naomh Bríd in 2008 have broken the big two’s hegemony on the senior championship.
Rangers completed a three-in-a-row in 2013. St Mullins took the next three titles and Rangers were hot favourites to complete another treble this year. Then St Mullins hit them early and then when it looked certain to end in a draw, Jason O’Neill slotted the St Mullins winner.
“It has been tit-for-tat. There have been savage matches between us and not a lot in it. Last year we felt we left it behind us. This year it was written for us to fall again. Maybe learning from last year and the hurt from that got us over the line this year. We are here now and people are talking about a Leinster final. It is mad.”
Kavanagh has had a tremendous year with the county in the Leinster senior hurling championship. Now a Leinster club final beckons.
“You dream about these things and you hope you can get there. No-one would have thought we would have got there especially after our semi-final,” he says.
By his own standards Marty was average in the Carlow semi-final where he shot a succession of wides himself. It has been a topsy-turvy path to the Leinster final.
“We played well in our first game against Ballinkillen. Against Rangers we were bad and against Myshall we did what we had to do. It is a long year. We played a lot of practice matches against top teams where we hurled well. Then we hurled well in Carlow. It is all about getting to the knock-out stages and we did that.”
This year’s county title was special for the captain. “A highlight” is how he describes it. He has earned the plaudits but is uncomfortable to be singled out.
“You have lads who score but you have lads who get to the ball and win the ball. Those lads are priceless too. They are irreplaceable,” Kavanagh contends.
“Niall (O’Donnell) is a pure hurling man. As straight up as they come. He has a hurling background, knows his stuff. He made us believe in what we were doing. He will be remembered here forever. He will always be welcome here.”
Win or lose, the St Mullins captain is determined there will be no looking back and wondering ‘what if?’.
“A huge occasion. We have to look on it as another game. If you get caught up in the moment it will be gone. We cannot have regrets and we have to go out and hurl the way we can hurl.”