Carlow hurling goes from strength to strength
By Michael Devlin
Carlow are continuing to rise to new heights following Sunday's Joe McDonagh Cup final victory over Westmeath in Croke Park, and manager Colm Bonnar is excited about the prospects that lie ahead.
They backed up last year’s Christy Ring Cup success by winning promotion and capturing the Division 2A league title earlier in the 2018 campaign, and now after becoming the first name on the Joe McDonagh Cup trophy, it continues to be onwards and upwards for the Barrowsiders.
“It’s the end of maybe two years’ hard work, but having said that, it’s a new horizon,” Bonnar told GAA.ie. “We’re going to Division 1B and up to senior, so it’s going to be just massive in terms of what we need to do.
“We had such a positive experience last year, we wondered could we make it again. It was a step up again having to play Westmeath, having already beaten them in the Division Two final, we had a cracker in the championship. We’re just delighted to be the first winners of this competition.
“Finals in Croke Park, even though it is great to compete, it’s special when you win here. We got a great experience of the Christy Ring last year, and we wondered could we follow on from that. I don’t think a lot of people would’ve expected Carlow to top the group and be the first Joe McDonagh champions.”
Premier level opposition lie in wait though, with a preliminary quarter final duel with Limerick is just around the corner.
“It’s a huge test for us. Obviously Limerick, and Wexford, have been waiting for the last three or four weeks. It’s a massive game for them because they would both have their eye on the bigger prize. They’ll be looking to push us aside very quickly so they’re going to come down very focused and they’re going to give it a hell of a rattle.
“Having said that, we’ve been fighting for that respect as hurlers. We need to stand up to that and match whatever they throw at us. It’ll be a good indication of what we need to do in terms of moving forward.
“It’s in Netwatch Cullen Park, and you can never write off this team. If they get the bit between their teeth, who knows what can happen.”
The step up to Division One hurling and the Liam McCarthy Cup is not without its challenges however, especially for a county as small as Carlow, and Bonnar knows his side have to keep striving to improve if they are to compete with the heavyweights in hurling’s premier competition next season.
“It’ll take a different mindset to go up and play at that level. The players want to be tested, they know it’ll take a lot of work to give themselves a chance to compete at that level.
“We’re one of the smallest counties, only four senior teams. The base is low but the quality is very good, and I think there are another four or five lads that I saw in club championship that can make an addition to this Carlow senior hurling squad. We’re going to get stronger if anything.”
While it has been Carlow footballers who have been making the headlines so far this year, the hurlers have now come out of the shadow and into the limelight, and Bonnar believes the players must revel in the positivity being felt around the county.
“The buzz in Carlow is huge at the moment. For the lads who wouldn’t get the same recognition as the footballers or get the same kind of following, they stuck to their guns and did what they had to do. We had a very good crowd here today, and we’re going that another crowd will come to Netwatch Cullen park next week.
“The lads have realised they have to respect who they’re representing and take a bit of pride in that. I think that’s shown every time they put the jersey on, so I have nothing but good to say about them at the moment.”