CARLOW travel to Mullingar tomorrow afternoon to take on Westmeath in the final round of the group stages knowing that only the unlikeliest set of results will see them progress to the Joe McDonagh Cup Final, their chances hanging by a thread so fine that it is barely visible to the naked eye.
Not only do they need Meath, who have lost all three games so far, to beat table topping Antrim but Carlow also need to overturn a 25 point scoring difference as well. Not totally impossible, and who knows given the surprises that 2020 has thrown up so far, but it is extremely unlikely.
The bigger question surrounding the game from a Carlow point of view is will it be the last we see of Colm Bonnar in charge of the team.
If results play out as expected and the miracle fails to materialise then the game will bring down the curtain on Bonnar’s fourth year in charge of Carlow. It has been a hugely successful period in the history of Carlow hurling and under the Tipperary man they have won Christy Ring Cup and Joe McDonagh Cup finals at Croke Park, as well as winning a Division 2B league title. Bonnar has brought the team to the heights of Division 1A and the Leinster Senior Championship but there is no doubting that this year has felt like a backward step.
They were defeated by Westmeath in the league relegation final before the lockdown kicked in last March and then failed to progress to the Joe McDonagh Cup final.
That might feel like a natural time to call a halt on things after a four year spell but the margins of error in the Championship this year have been so small that it might tempt Bonnar to extend his stay in the belief that he can still get more from this group.
Really, it was a goal in the fifth minute of injury time in the first round game against Antrim that has proved so costly for the team. That was a day when Carlow outhurled a team who had just recently won the Division 2A league title and will now likely contest a Joe McDonagh final but as well as they played in an attacking sense that day, it was an off day at the back and pretty much all five goals conceded were avoidable from a defensive point of view.
The shock of conceding that late equalising goal maybe took a lot out of the Carlow squad because next up they laboured to a one point win over Meath.
That set up a winner takes all tie in Tralee last weekend but again the concession of a couple of soft in the second quarter, particularly one in the last play of the half, really hurt Carlow. Still, we saw the battling spirit that we associate with Bonnar’s Carlow teams in the second half and six points in a row left Kerry down by two points with five minutes to play and against the ropes. Carlow, however couldn’t land the knockout blow, and four points in a row from the home team, the last two in injury time, renders Saturday’s game against Carlow’s old foes all but meaningless.
The peculiar nature of 2020 means that managers won’t have the usual period for reflection at the end of the season and it won’t be long before preparations for 2021 begin in earnest. We might get more of an indication of Bonnar’s intentions after tomorrow’s game.