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Niall Carew remains eager to develop Carlow talent

Carlow senior football team manager Niall Carew. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Carlow senior football team manager Niall Carew. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

By Cian O’Connell

With several counties believing that promotion is attainable, intrigue is attached to the remaining rounds in Division Four of the Allianz Football League.

Saturday’s Netwatch Cullen Park encounter involving Carlow and Wexford is a critical encounter for both teams, who are very much in the race for a top two finish.

Carlow manager Niall Carew is encouraged that several emerging players are producing dynamic displays. During Turlough O’Brien’s time in charge, Carlow competed strongly in league and championship.

In Carew’s first couple of Covid disrupted campaigns there was a transitional spell, but recent signs provide encouragement, perfectly illustrated by Colm Hulton’ last gasp winning goal against Leitrim.

That experienced and developing players are contributing to the Carlow cause is significant according to Carew. “Darragh Foley is one delivering, Jordan Morrissey was very young coming into that panel, the Clarkes were knocking around,” Carew replies.

“Other than that, it is a brand-new team. The young lads have really pushed on - the likes of Paddy McDonnell, Aaron Amond, and Colm Hulton.

“These lads are stepping up to the plate, Conor Crowley, I know he was involved. They would have been fringe players, but now they are experienced players.

“They are probably at their peak, so there is a good blend, and we are looking forward to every game coming our way now.”

Carew is satisfied that a new generation of footballers are making an impact for Carlow. “That is the whole thing,” Carew remarks. “We don't have a good base of players coming from any winning minor or U20 team.

“The majority of lads wouldn't have won a game at inter-county underage level. So, we probably had to start from scratch with some of them, but in fairness they stuck with the process, hung in there for three years. Now, they are finding that they can compete at this level. That is all good.”

Niall Carew talks to Carlow players ahead of the 2023 Leinster SFC clash against Wicklow. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Niall Carew talks to Carlow players ahead of the 2023 Leinster SFC clash against Wicklow. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Enjoyment can be derived in assisting footballers on their sporting journeys. It is an element that Carew cares deeply about. “I've been asked a question before about Carlow in terms of why you stick with it, when you don't have much silverware at the end of every year,” he adds.

“It is all about developing, it is making sure you're developing a team that can compete at their level. I can see these lads’ developing year in, year out, and I suppose that is what is driving you on. That is what gives you the energy.”

Laois currently are setting the standard in Division Four, but Carew reckons it is a competitive environment. “You can throw a blanket over every team; and I include London and Waterford, on their day they are a match for anyone,” he says.

“So, the league is blown wide open. I know Laois are two points ahead, but they are going to have sticky assignments - no more than ourselves - in the next three games too. It is just blown wide open now.”

March will be an interesting month in Division Four. “No matter who wins at the weekend it will probably be still all to play for, right up until the last game,” Carew responds.

“So, it is exciting for every team in that division because you have six teams there, who feel they can get promoted. Every game is going to get bigger and bigger from here on in.”

Crucially, Carew senses that possibilities exist for Carlow once more. Some productive outings in the 2023 Tailteann Cup hinted at Carlow’s potential. “Ross Dunphy got his All-Star on the Tailteann Cup team last year, that will drive every lad on too,” Carew acknowledges.

“We got to a quarter-final, we competed very well against Antrim. We were maybe a bit unlucky not to get more out of that game.

“We had three big wins against New York, Longford, and Wicklow which gave lads confidence for the following year - which is this year. So, it is exciting times for us.”

Three rounds of the Allianz Football League must be negotiated in the coming weeks before a summer of championship fare. Neighbours Wexford, who also want to secure promotion, are next on the agenda. Carew is firmly focused on that tussle.