IT might seem early in the Allianz Hurling League season to be talking about must-win games but Carlow’s defeat last week in Ballycran means that Offaly’s visit to Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday very much falls into that category if Tom Mullally’s side harbour ambitions of playing at a higher level next season.
That’s partly down to the frantic pace that Offaly have set in the opening two rounds. Michael Fennelly’s team started with a 3-25 to 3-09 win over Meath in Pairc Tailteann and that followed that with a hugely impressive 2-28 to 0-13 home win against Kerry last week.
Things didn’t quite click for Offaly last season in their first season under Fennelly following their relegation but they certainly seem to have hit the ground running this season.
For Carlow, there were plenty of ups and downs in their performance of a rollercoaster game against Down and no doubt Mullally was accentuating the positives while working on the negatives in this week’s training.
They’ll likely be without the suspended James Doyle after his sending off last week and Mullally will have his fingers crossed that he will be able to call on key forward duo John Michael Nolan and Marty Kavanagh after they were both withdrawn in the final quarter having picked up knocks. Mullally also confirmed after that game in Down that the injury that midfielder Ciaran Whelan sustained in the warm-up before the first game of the season against Wicklow will rule him out of the entire campaign.
Even with things mounting against them, and six points down heading towards injury time, Carlow kept battling and would have snatched a last gasp victory only for a stunning save from Stephen Keith to deny Jack McCullagh.
That fighting spirit will stand to Carlow as they head into Sunday’s game according to midfielder Jack Kavanagh.
“The only thing we can take out of this is the character,” he said while speaking in the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Down.
“We kept going to the death. Everything that could have gone against us went against us. We lost some big name players. In fairness to the lads who came on they showed huge character to get there. We were fierce unlucky not to come away with the win with their ‘keeper making that last save. It would have been daylight robbery on Down but we would have taken it if we had got it.”
“All we can do is knuckle down. We have a good panel but we are without some big name players. Unfortunately we lost a few more today. Lads you would go to the trenches with.
“I don’t know how the lads are. John Michael (Nolan) doesn’t look good. Mouse too. We have five or six lads at home already with hamstring injuries and stuff like that. That is the joys of starting intercounty training two weeks before the start of the league. We have great young lads there to step up,” said Kavanagh.
Manager Mullally is pleased to be involved in such an important game so early in the season.
“It is good. Hurling is hurling. Fifteen against fifteen and you have to learn your trade no matter who it is against. It is good matches are coming. The games will help us overall,” he said.
The game will once again be streamed live on PaircTv, details here.