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Tuesday 14 August 2018

When Carlow alarm bells rang loudest

Murphy recalls the day he knew team had to change

DELIGHT: Carlow captain John Murphy celebrates after the Leinster SFC quarter-final victory over Kildare at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Pic: Sportsfile
DELIGHT: Carlow captain John Murphy celebrates after the Leinster SFC quarter-final victory over Kildare at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Pic: Sportsfile

John Murphy has lived through the worst of times in a Carlow jersey and so appreciates the best of times all the more.

He made his SFC debut against Meath in 2008 - cue a 20-point rout.

There were plenty of demoralising lows over the next decade, but the watershed defeat he references may come as something of a surprise.

It was two years ago, under current boss Turlough O'Brien, in a Leinster first round tie in Portlaoise. Carlow have shipped heavier defeats than that 2-24 to 3-11 loss to Louth, but, as Murphy recalls: "They hammered us. We were wide open at the back and they just cleaned us out."

Two late goals made it a ten-point game and afterwards Murphy was adamant that something had to change.

He expands: "I was centre-back and Ledge (Daniel St Ledger) was full-back, and it was just open season. We just basically had two defenders; everyone was caught up the field. They were playing a defensive game plan and we fell hook, line and sinker for it.

Injuries

"So then we set up a more defensive structure against Wicklow, and we beat them in the qualifier. Then we went up to Cavan with a depleted team, we had a few injuries and suspensions, and Cavan beat us (by seven points).

"But we got a lot of belief that day because we played badly and if we were any good at all, we would have got over the line ... we felt we were on to something."

Enter coach Steven Poacher.

"Stevie was after doing one or two training sessions and there was talk of him going to be around more often the following year, so you're thinking, 'okay, next year could be real positive if he sticks around'," says Murphy.

"And then last year in the league we just slipped up. We got a good result against Westmeath and then played London the following week and just completely underestimated them. We just weren't prepared and that was a great learning curve."

Since that shock home loss to London, Carlow have won 15 of their last 20 league and SFC ties, losing the other five.

Murphy, who took over the captain's armband in January, says: "Even when we haven't played great this year we've managed to get over the line - three or four years ago, if we played badly we would have lost."

Against Kildare, a flawless 2-14 from 16 attempts has Carlow dreaming of beating Laois on Sunday to reach a first Leinster final in 74 years.

"It's an unreal statistic," says Murphy. "Against Louth we hit seven wides in the first-half alone, and in the league final (against Laois) I don't know how many wides we hit, but it was a lot. So it's not as if our form had been great."

Their form now, though, has them on the brink of a remarkable final appearance.

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