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Saturday 14 December 2019

Carter plots Sheff' shock

Kilkenny icon dares to dream of Slaney coup

Charlie Carter in his Kilkenny playing days. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Charlie Carter in his Kilkenny playing days. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Back in the first year of this millennium, when Brian Cody won the first of his 11 All-Irelands, DJ Carey was flanked in a free-scoring Kilkenny full-forward line by Charlie Carter and Henry Shefflin.

Carter the Unstoppable Scoring Machine, as he was dubbed by certain fans who loved their indie rock puns as much as their hurling. And Shefflin the heir apparent prince to DJ - he had yet to be crowned King Henry.

Almost two decades on, the pair are about to cross metaphorical hurls in Nowlan Park today (1.30). Shefflin as manager of Ballyhale Shamrocks, Carter as the coach 'behind enemy lines' hoping to steer St Martin's, the 6/1 underdogs, to a famous Wexford coup.

A place in the AIB Leinster club SHC final is at stake. Ballyhale, the reigning All-Ireland champions, are an almost unbackable 1/10.

"Ah sure, we're facing a massive challenge," admits Carter. "I think everyone knows that. Shamrocks are a very formidable outfit. Might even be a bit better from last year - their younger lads are a bit more experienced. They have marquee players all over the field."

Not to mention a marquee boss.

"He's a driven character," says Carter of his old partner-in-pillage. "He was always going to go into management, I'd say.

"Look, I didn't know the circumstances; I thought maybe he might take a year or two out after finishing up with Kilkenny. But maybe that's just the way the balls fell, and he took the bull by the horns. He probably knew what he had to work with as well."

St Martin's are managed by Tomás Codd, a good friend of Carter's from their agricultural college days together in Kildalton. Carter is in his fourth season of involvement - the first as an advisor to Codd before taking on the role of coach/selector.

Thus, the three-time All Star was there in 2017 when Martin's won their first Wexford SHC crown in nine years, only to run into a perfect storm of club fixture congestion and Cuala, then defending All-Ireland champions. They lost by 11.

"We lost Rory O'Connor and Patrick O'Connor - they actually played a football final the week after the Wexford final. Absolutely crazy stuff - the body couldn't take everything," he recalls.

"Look it, Cuala ended up champions and they were very strong. We have a habit of running into the All-Ireland champions in our first Leinster match. But it's great to be hurling this time of the year, because it usually means you've won your county title."

Their latest prize was garnered minus Rory O'Connor, now back from suspension after missing their surprisingly fraught two-point victory over St Anne's.

Carter describes them as "mad looking forward" to the challenge - to see where Wexford hurling gears up against Kilkenny hurling.

"St Mullins have shown St Martin's what can be done by taking down Cuala two weeks ago. Sport is sport, and you have to keep throwing the darts to succeed."

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