Wicklow have potency to win
LEINSTER SFC 1st RD
WICKLOW v CARLOW
(Portlaoise, Tomorrow 3.30)
LOCAL derbies can do funny-peculiar things. Luke Dempsey should know -- he was in charge of the Longford team taking on his former Westmeath charges in the opening round of the 2007 Leinster senior football championship.
Coming up towards the interval, it looked all over bar the half-time shouting in the Longford dressing-room. The home side were already trailing by nine points to a rampant Westmeath.
Cutting that deficit to eight, just before the break, scarcely seemed like the genesis of an incredible comeback. Yet Brian Kavanagh pilfered a goal soon after the restart and, by the end of this madly fluctuating contest, Dempsey's men were celebrating an improbable three-point victory.
What has all this got to do with tomorrow's Leinster SFC opener, three years later? Very little -- other than to say it's another derby and Dempsey is again managing the underdogs against another Kerryman -- for Tomás ó Flatharta in 2007 read Mick O'Dwyer this year.
As alluded to at the outset, derbies can take you on unexpected journeys and this partly explains why there's an element of doubt in Wicklow minds as they make the trek to O'Moore Park tomorrow.
The 1/3 favourites know that, man for man, they are better than Carlow. They can remind themselves that when the sides met in Aughrim last March, they won an error-strewn contest by double scores -- 0-14 to 0-7.
The injuries ruling out two likely members of the full-back line -- All- Star nominee Ciarán Hyland and Damien Power -- would probably cause Wicklow greater alarm were it not for the fact that Carlow are missing a glut of first-choice forwards, such as Daniel St Ledger, JJ Smith and Eric McCormack.
And besides, Wicklow's own starting attack looks considerably more potent on paper when you factor in the likes of Leighton Glynn, Seánie Furlong, Tony Hannon and Paul Earls.
Finally, this may seem slightly perverse to say about the only Leinster county (Kilkenny included!) never to have won a provincial senior football title ... but this bunch of Wicklow players can boast a championship pedigree that their less heralded rivalries simply cannot match.
For that, they can thank last year's fairytale run to round four of the All-Ireland qualifiers -- the Wicklow equivalent of lifting Sam. And, of course, they can thank Micko, who had already instilled a more battle-hardened summer resolve in this team even before that six-game odyssey of last year.
So then, why should Wicklow be nervous? Well, the derby factor cannot be entirely discounted. Nor can the nagging fear that besets many teams in this scenario -- will the fairytale be followed by a mighty big fall?
The public cannot be sure, just yet, because Wicklow produced their now trademark mixed bag of a league campaign. Given the summer heights previously scaled, you've got to ask why are they still meandering in the middle reaches of the basement division? But then again, when did Micko ever give two fiddlers for February/ March football?
Wicklow eventually finished fourth, with 11 points -- close enough but never quite in the promotion box seat. Carlow finished two places and four points worse off -- again, vaguely respectable by their minnow standards without ever remotely setting the world alight.
The loss of Hyland, such a noted man-marker, is an obvious blow to Wicklow. Into the full-back breach steps Dara ó hAnnaidh -- straight off a plane from Sweden, so it seems. The Bray man has plenty of experience in the No3 jersey, from last summer, but very little football in his legs given his overseas work schedule.
Just as notably, Wicklow have also lost Thomas Walsh -- back into the embrace of his native Carlow and straight back into the midfield battle against (wouldn't you guess it?) his old colleagues. With Walsh operating alongside another comeback 'kid' -- ex-Sydney Swan Brendan Murphy -- the Barrowsiders will hope to establish a level of midfield dominance although James Stafford, doubtless, will have something to say about that.
The worry for Carlow, though, is that there aren't enough scores in that weakened attack. Even during the league, if you exclude London and Kilkenny, they were the lowest scorers in Division Four.
And here's another spring trait that must be avoided at all costs: their pretty shocking disciplinary record. In three games they finished with just 13 men -- and lost all three games in the process. One of those defeats came to Wicklow; whatever about seeing red, they will probably see history repeated here.
ODDS: Wicklow 1/3, Draw 9/1, Carlow 3/1
WICKLOW: M Travers; S Kelly, D ó hAnnaidh, A Byrne; P McWalter, B McGrath, D Hayden; J Stafford, JP Dalton; L Glynn, T Hannon, N Mernagh; D Odlum, S Furlong, P Earls.
CARLOW: J Clarke; P Murphy, L Murphy, B Kavanagh; A Curran, J Hayden, P McElligot; B Murphy, T Walsh; S Gannon, D Foley, M Carpenter; S Rea, J Murphy, J Kavanagh.
REF: G ó Conámha (Galway).