Murphy's law for Louth
Carlow ace sparks scenes of pure joy as his late point sinks 14-man Wee County
IT'S not too often you get to witness scenes of joyous GAA ecstasy in June but O'Moore Park yesterday hosted a sort of Carlow Mardi Gras of colour and celebration after the final whistle sounded on their shock Leinster SFC quarter-final win over Louth.
Just seconds after Brendan Murphy curled over his third and game-winning point, referee Derek Fahy blew for full-time, prompting an explosion of emotion from the Carlow contingent.
“It's like a volcano has erupted in Carlow now,” was how Luke Dempsey put it afterwards, and somewhat predictably, the stadium announcer's appeals for supporters to stay off the pitch fell on selectively deaf ears.
Louth's status as honorary Leinster champions is over but the subsequent qualifier draw will sharpen the senses a lot quicker than might otherwise have been the case.
Yesterday belonged to Carlow, however. A first Leinster championship victory since 2006, a first in their history over Louth, achieved with a sense of purpose, an inner-confidence and grit – all qualities which were presumed to be absent within the county.
Five years of fighting losing battles in Leinster and, as both Dempsey and the heroic Murphy pointed out afterwards, an underlying apathy within Carlow were all washed away with one majestic stroke of the big midfielder's boot in the closing seconds of yesterday's Portlaoise showdown.
“It just goes to show,” said an elated and exasperated Murphy afterwards. “There's boys that didn't make themselves available to play but those group of players today ... the stick we get sometimes is cat, but the boys just kept fighting.
“We went in today and we were confident.
“I'd say it's one of the only times this Carlow team thought we could do it. Jeez, what a win, fantastic, brilliant.”
The man once presumed to be lost to Aussie Rules displayed all his class, leadership and ability with a tour de force in the closing 10 minutes, despite the fact that his abilities were hampered by a residual ankle injury.
At that point, Louth looked to have put Dessie Finnegan's first-half sending-off for a second yellow card behind them. Cajoled by their own midfield dervish, Paddy Keenan, they kicked seven of the first eight points of the second half to transform a three-point half-time deficit into a three-point lead with only the final gallop left to negotiate.
For his first trick, the Rathvilly man stuck a lineball over the bar from the 45-metre line and then pounced on Paul Cahin's pass to curl a massive point to move Carlow to within one point.
The momentum had shifted utterly in Carlow's favour but doubts about their ability to close the deal remained.
Then, Daniel St Ledger levelled the match with a monstrous free from well outside the 45 and just as extra-time beckoned, Murphy – by now hell bent on getting on the ball every time Carlow gained possession – took the situation by the scruff and walloped over another sweetly bending strike to win it.
“Sometimes you wonder are those days ever going to come back again,” said Dempsey calmly as pandemonium broke out all around him.
“They are fantastic lads because we had a lot of issues during the year but what we’ve gotten out of the 26 in the last few weeks has been phenomenal.”
His team had started and finished the game on top but the bits in between had threatened to derail the victory. Louth, meanwhile, played only in spurts and were hit with Finnegan's sending off before half-time although Carlow were very much in the ascendancy before the St Patrick's defender's second yellow.
Louth's attack lacked spark and only Shane Lennon will have done his reputation any good.
Instead, they were reliant on Keenan's now customary Superman impression and a productive performance from Brian Donnelly alongside.
To Carlow's credit, they took some fine scores in the first half, through Patrick Hickey and Ed Finnegan in particular, but all the drama and all the best football was squashed into the late Brendan Murphy show.
Naturally, Dempsey was effusive in his praise of Carlow's match-winner.
“We haven't had Brendan all year and it's a testament to the hard work he's been doing in his training as a soldier that he came back to us a couple of weeks ago.
“He got injured in a challenge against Cavan, but still has the wherewithal, exhausted as he was, to push on and got those marvellous points. It really takes a (calm) player to steady himself, take those few steps and get those couple of points.”
Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick was understandably down about the result but gave all the credit to Carlow. He did, however, stress that he viewed Finnegan's sending off as “harsh.”
“I thought they were two harsh yellow cards. Dessie fell to the ground and tried to get his hand to the ball but tripped (Seán) Gannon by the leg.
“There was no malice in it. There were no dirty tackles today even though there were an awful lot of yellow cards.”
He also noted that “it's going to be hard” to pick his team up after the defeat but given that he was speaking before Louth were drawn to last year's Leinster final villains, Meath, in the qualifiers, you would presume he would revise that quote if he could.
Carlow, meanwhile, go on to a Leinster semi-final with Wexford and stand just 70 minutes away from a provincial decider.
“A Leinster semi-final against Wexford at Croke Park, it's a cup final again,” noted Murphy.
“We have nothing to lose. We're just going to go in ... training the next few weeks, forget about today. Today is over, just push on again and give it everything and see how it goes on the day.”