Turlough O'Brien: 'It was a fantastic year for Carlow'
By Cian O'Connell
What a difference a day makes. One glamour game for Carlow against Dublin, brought momentum and hope to the county.
An honourable defeat was followed by qualifier wins over London and Leitrim. Monaghan eventually overcame Carlow, who had already beaten Wexford in Leinster. Matches were played, hearts captured, and manager Turlough O'Brien can happily reflect on an eventful and most encouraging campaign.
"It was a fantastic year for Carlow, there’s no doubt about that," O'Brien admits.
"Carlow is still buzzing from the Championship. I’ve never seen as much interest in football in Carlow as there is at the moment. The proof of the pudding is there is now nearly a queue of lads wanting to get into the county panel, to try out."
It offers another slice of good news for Carlow, who crave to make an impact in Division Four of the Allianz League next spring. "A lot of young players are going to be tried out now as well," O'Brien states.
"Look, it’s in a good place, a very good place. But look, while it was a great year nonetheless we are back to square one for the National Football League.
"There is no gimme games in the National Football League. I think a Division One team would struggle in Division Four in February and March, bad pitches and bad weather – it’s a real equaliser.
"I’m not saying we are any better than the other teams, but it’s a dog-fight down there and I’m sure the likes of Wicklow, we beat them last year, I’m sure they are waiting to get Carlow."
O'Brien expects several demanding challenges. "A big factor in the Division this year could be the fact that London have seven home games, so they could trip up a few teams," O'Brien remarks.
"Then you have the teams that came down, Laois and Antrim, they are going to want to go straight back up. And Laois and Carlow is a derby game of course, a real big derby game. They certainly wouldn’t want to lose to Carlow.
"So they are all very difficult games but we are really looking forward to it at the same time.
"I suppose football is in a very good place, the panel of players we have are at a very good age, most of the guys are at the peak of their careers. Physically, they are a fine team.
"We have a lot of talent in the team and if we hit form I think we can give a good account of ourselves right through."
Promotion will be aim according to O'Brien following the 2017 Championship adventure. "There’s no doubt about that, promotion would be a massive step forward for us," O'Brien says.
"We got so close last year, the run of fixtures just favoured Wexford actually. They had their hardest two games in the last two games, if it had been the other way around it might have been a different outcome.
"We slipped up against London last year and we have to avoid those slip ups really. That’s the difference really between the teams that go through and the runners up really, they don’t make those slip ups.
"They find a way to win and that’s what we have to do. You’d hope the experiences of the summer will have given that extra edge that they need so that they don’t make those slip ups."
That Carlow featured in summer matches against high calibre opposition in Dublin and Monaghan has added Gaelic Football hugely according to O'Brien.
"Massively important," O'Brien adds. "The pitch at half-time of the Carlow-Monaghan game was covered in young kids with Carlow jerseys on their back.
"The terrace was covered in Carlow jerseys. We haven’t seen that in a long time in Carlow. People are talking about wanting to play for Carlow now and the proof of the pudding might be in the attendance at the Cul Camps, absolutely rocketed during the summer.
"If we prepare well enough, and we’ve seen that if you prepare well enough and set your team up properly you can be competitive.
"Every team can be competitive. Nobody can control your work only yourself, so if you go in with the right attitude and you prepare well, well okay talent will probably win out in the end, but you can sure as hell make a good fight out of it." It is precisely what O'Brien and Carlow continue to do.