By Kieran Murphy
AT half-time in this Walsh Cup game, behind the stand at Netwatch Cullen Park spectators chatted and tried to keep warm. One questioned the sanity of playing these games at this time of year.
“We’re all mad,” he suggested.
Perhaps he had a point. The small crowd. The cold weather. The wet pitch which takes the life out of the sliotar and confounds the best efforts of the players.
Yet despite these misgivings, these games do serve a purpose and the Carlow manager is happy to take them for what they are.
“If you can remember, some of the games we played last year, the weather was desperate. Today as days go, the conditions were not too bad for hurling,” said Colm Bonnar.
Certainly Tommy Dowling in the Carlow goal looked confident and couldn’t blame himself for the two goals scored by Aaron Bergin and Ronan Murray towards the end of the first quarter.
“We were using Ross Smithers back in defence and Dara Tobin at full-back. These are important games for them. Paul (Coady) is coming back in as well,” said Bonnar.
Before the concession of the two goals, Carlow led 0-5 to 0-3. As the half progressed Chris Nolan was deadly accurate from frees while Ted Joyce, John Michael Nolan and Cathal Tracey all scored from play. With the exception of Ross King, and he scored a second-half goal, all the starting Laois forwards scored from play.
In a 12-minute spell in the first half, Carlow were outscored by 2-3 to 0-2 but they still persisted and only trailed by 2-9 to 0-11 at the break.
“We are training hard and it is a chance for players to come in and make the team. We were never worried about the result and we were looking at their attitude and application. And looking to see how well they are adapting,” stressed Bonnar.
Early in the second half, Eddie Byrne could possibly have scored a goal, but after taking on the Laois defence successfully he opted to off-load instead of taking his own shot. Unfortunately for Carlow the pass went to ground and the chance was lost.
Shortly after, Laois swooped for their third goal when Ross King picked up a rebound off the right-hand post when Willie Dunphy looked set to raise a white flag. He still had a lot to do but he retained his composure, beat the defender and fired home.
Bonnar was unfazed by all this and he was delighted to see his charges hit back to build a tally of 0-22.
“We played Waterford in a challenge game just to get ready for this. Obviously we played Westmeath (in the Walsh Cup last week) and we only scored 14 points. Today we kept the scoreboard ticking over,” Bonnar pointed out.
He also referred to part of the game plan which Carlow used on the day.
“We made some great overlaps. They broke down on us at times but this was never about shooting the lights out. It was about trying to create these opportunities,” he said.
Carlow’s next game in the competitions takes place away to Dublin on 5 January. There is a fair chance the weather won’t be much better.
Laois: Enda Rowland; Liam Senior, Matthew Whelan, Donncha Hartnett; Ronan Murray (1-2), Padraig Delaney, Ciaran McEvoy (0-1); Ciaran Comerford (0-2), Enda Killeen; Aaron Dunphy (0-3), Eoin Gaughan (0-6 frees), James Ryan (0-1); Ross King (1-0), Willie Dunphy (0-1), Aaron Bergin (1-2). Subs: Jack Kelly (0-1) for A. Dunphy (31 mins), Fiachra C Fennell for Delaney (h/t), Frank Flanagan for Whelan (45 mins), Joe Phelan for Dunphy (54 mins), Cormac Rigney for King (54 mins), Alan Connolly for Hartnett (58 mins).
Carlow: Thomas Dowling; Ross Smithers, Dara Tobin, Michael Doyle; Richard Coady, David English, Diarmuid Byrne; Kevin McDonald (0-1), Eddie Byrne (0-1); John Michael Nolan (0-3), Ted Joyce (0-3), Jack Murphy; Cathal Tracey (0-1), Jon Nolan, Chris Nolan (0-12, 0-10 frees 0-2 65s). Subs: Ciaran Kavanagh for Murphy (26 mins), Alan Corcoran for Tobin (h/t), Paul Coady for Kavanagh (45 mins), Keelan Guidera for Tracey (59 mins).
Referee: Thomas Gleeson (Dublin).