By John Foley
CARLOW’S quest to bounce straight back to Division 3 started with a hard-fought win over neighbours Wicklow at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday evening.
The win was particularly satisfying considering Carlow played with 14 men for virtually the entirety of the game after Paul Broderick was shown a straight red card just two minutes in.
An off-the-ball incident left a Wicklow defender on the ground on the 20-metre line and after consultation with his linesmen, referee Brian Cawley didn’t hesitate to flash the red card, much to the bafflement of the home support, and get Carlow’s league campaign off to the worst possible start.
But credit to the hosts, after a tentative first half during which all of their five points came from frees, they opened up with some pleasing moves and a series of fine scores to close out the game in more convincing fashion than the two-point margin might suggest.
Indeed it was Carlow’s ability to get scores from play after the break which won them the game. Mikey Bambrick, Sean Murphy and Jordan Morrissey were among those to loft over great points after some incisive running through a packed Wicklow defence which, in theory, had a spare man. But in practice the visitors will be disappointed not to have made any real use of their numerical advantage.
That coupled with an over-reliance on frees, only one of Wicklow’s nine points came from open play, was always going to make it difficult for them to reel in any kind of a deficit in the closing minutes.
Both teams looked to be still shaking off the early-season rust in the first half with mass-defences keeping out attacks on goal. While Darragh Foley clipped over frees when he got a chance, Wicklow were guilty of missing a number of opportunities from placed balls with goalkeeper Mark Jackson taking the responsibility but struggling to find his range.
Carlow were without a number of key men including Daniel St Ledger and Sean Gannon for the game but they still had plenty of ballast through the spine of the team with Brendan and John Murphy doing plenty of the heavy lifting alongside Eoghan Ruth and Jordan Morrissey who, incidentally, will line out for DCU in Wednesday’s Sigerson Cup final against an IT Carlow team which will include his county team-mates Conor Doyle and Josh Moore.
Wicklow pushed up hard on the Carlow kick-outs early on and Carlow struggled to find their men but time and time again Wicklow couldn’t capitalise on their possession; one big chance of a goal for Dave Devereux was denied by a scrambling Carlow defence after 16 minutes.
A Diarmuid Walsh free from the right-hand side on 34 minutes just about edged Carlow ahead at the break – 0-5 to 0-4.
Brendan Murphy signalled an immediate change of pace after the interval with a lovely point from play for Carlow to push the lead to three points.
Wicklow’s challenge almost got a shot in the arm when a ball came back off the post into the waiting arms of Conor Byrne but the half-time substitute blazed wide from 15 yards when he needed to at least test Robert Sansom in the Carlow goal.
Conor O’Brien added a free for Wicklow but a lovely score from Mikey Bambrick kept Carlow at arm’s length. Kiltegan’s Rory Finn scored a free for Wicklow but again Carlow responded, this time with a great surging run from Jordan Morrissey and a lovely score from Diarmuid Walshe.
Carlow’s ability to respond to Wicklow scores with one of their own was important. But that’s not to say they were able to relax either.
While there were Wicklow points from O’Brien and Finn again and a Conor Doyle point from a mark, Carlow also kept the scoreboard ticking over, and in most impressive fashion too.
Jordan Morrissey drove through the heart of the Wicklow defence and then showed composure to find the posts after 17 minutes of the second half. Then came perhaps the best score of the game, an excellent individual effort from Sean Murphy who turned on the afterburners to cut through the middle of the Wicklow defence and score a great point with his right.
That made it 0-10 to 0-8 with 10 minutes of normal time to go,
When Darragh O’Brien stretched the lead to three from a free it looked unlikely Wicklow would catch up with points alone and so they went for a direct route to goal in the closing minutes. But in truth the Carlow defence, which put in a fine shift all night, never looked like being breached as the home side held out to secure the opening points of the campaign.
Wicklow: Mark Jackson (0-1 free); Oisin Manning, Jamie Snell, Jack Hamilton; Darren Hayden, Niall Donnelly, Dave Devereux; Padraig O’Toole, Rory Finn (0-2 frees); Dean Healy (0-1), Mark Kenny, Paddy O’Keane; Eoin Darcy, Chris O’Brien (0-3 frees), Gearoid Murphy. Subs: Eoin Murtagh for G Murphy (ht), Conor Byrne (0-1, mark) for J Hamilton (ht), Andy Maher for D Hayden (48 mins), Seanie Furlong (0-1, free) for C O’Brien (64 mins), Darragh Fitzgerald for O Manning (64 mins)
Carlow: Robert Sansom; Mikey Bambrick (0-1), Shane Redmond, Niall Roche; Jordan Morrissey (0-1), Brendan Murphy (0-1), Conor Doyle; Sean Murphy (0-1), Ray Walker; Paul Broderick, Darragh Foley (0-3 frees), John Murphy; Diarmuid Walshe (0-3, 0-2 frees), Eoghan Ruth, Darragh O’Brien (0-1 free). Subs: Josh Moore for N Roche (48 mins), Conor Crowley for D Foley (61 mins), Mark Furey for R Walker (61 mins), Ross Dunphy for D Walshe (65 mins), Liam Roberts for M Bambrick (74 mins)
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)