Allianz HL D1B: Carlow produce storming comeback
Allianz Hurling League Division 1B relegation play/off
CARLOW 2-14 OFFALY 1-6
By Kevin Egan at Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park
The hashtag of #CarlowRising could be changed to #Carlowresurrecting after Colm Bonnar’s hurlers produced an incredible comeback in Tullamore, defying an early red card for full forward Eddie Byrne into the bargain as they retrieved an 11-point half time deficit to salvage their Division One status for 2020.
The strength of the wind in Tullamore only told half the story as Carlow came from behind thanks to a tenacious and driven performance, outmuscling Offaly under the dropping ball and in the battle for breaks to ensure that Joe Bergin and Shane Dooley were starved of possession after half time.
Martin Kavanagh and Chris Nolan led the way in the scoring stakes for the Dolmen County, but it was in the trenched that they earned this win, retrieving what looked like an impossible deficit early on.
Goalkeeper Brian Tracey went up for the toss and his decision to hurl into the breeze would have baffled many.
It certainly seemed to backfire when Carlow were overwhelmed in the early exchanges, quickly falling behind to an Offaly side that looked sharp up front. Joe Bergin (2) and Kevin Connolly fired over early points, and then with eight minutes on the clock Bergin met a high, lobbing shot from Shane Kinsella with a well-timed overhead pull and gave Brian Tracey no chance in the Carlow goal.
The scale of the challenge facing Carlow grew steeper still when Niall Houlihan dragged down Eddie Byrne and the Mount Leinster Rangers man retaliated, swiping the hurl across the Offaly full back and drawing a straight red card from referee John Keenan.
Offaly continued to pile on the scores and while Chris Nolan got Carlow off the mark after 13 minutes, Shane Kinsella replied with a fine point to make it 1-6 to 0-1 after 14 minutes.
Shane Dooley had a glorious chance to extend that lead significantly midway through the half when Joe Bergin found him with a glorious cross-field pass and Dooley was left with just the keeper to beat from 15 metres, but his shot fizzed over the crossbar.
Time was to reveal that this miss would be significant, as well as another Dooley goal chance in the second half where Tracey came up with a superb save to deny the Tullamore sharpshooter’s ground shot with a superb reflex save.
It could be argued that the second quarter was when Carlow salvaged their season. They kept Offaly’s lead to around the ten-point mark, with Nolan and Kavanagh adding scores just before the break, and even with Byrne dismissed, the visitors were still very much in the game.
Their hopes of a comeback needed the oxygen of goals however, and the manner in which those green flag scores were delivered were doubly significant, as they were as much about Offaly’s defensive failings as Carlow’s brilliance.
Twice long balls were sent sailing into the Offaly full back line in the space of ten minutes, twice Offaly let the sliothar hit the deck, twice Carlow pounced to deliver huge scores. Seámus Murphy kicked in the first, Chris Nolan adding the second as tensions rose all across O’Connor Park.
Crucially, Carlow maintained their momentum, even after scoring those goals. Martin Kavanagh pointed twice to cut the gap to two, and Offaly found themselves in real trouble from their own puckout. When they went short, dropped balls and errant handpasses led to turnovers, but when they went long they were outfought and outmuscled by the Carlow half back line and midfield, with David English and Richard Coady absolutely imperious.
All that remained was for Carlow to take the lead for the first time and when they did, it was appropriate that it came from an Offaly error. Dermot Shortt failed to control a ball in the left corner of his full back line, Seán Whelan nipped in and was fouled, for Carlow to go 2-13 to 1-15 in front after 67 minutes.
John Michael Nolan added another and while Joe Bergin responded with a free, time ran out on the Faithful men as Carlow held on to preserve their top flight status.
Scorers for Carlow: Martin Kavanagh 0-8 (4fs), Chris Nolan 1-4, Seamus Murphy 1-1, John Michael Nolan 0-1.
Scorers for Offaly: Joe Bergin 1-7 (4fs, 165), Shane Dooley 0-3, Kevin Connolly & Shane Kinsella 0-2, Eoghan Cahill (f), and Kevin Dunne 0-1 each.
CARLOW: Brian Tracey; Michael Doyle, Paul Doyle, Alan Corcoran; Kevin McDonald, David English, Richard Coady; Jack Kavanagh, Seán Whelan; Seamus Murphy, Martin Kavanagh, John Michael Nolan; Chris Nolan, Eddie Byrne, James Doyle.
Subs: Jack Murphy for J Kavanagh (34), Ted Joyce for J Doyle (60), Jon Nolan for J Murphy (66)
OFFALY: Eoghan Cahill; Paddy Rigney, Niall Houlihan, Ben Conneely; Damien Egan, Pat Camon, Aidan Treacy; Shane Kinsella, Colm Gath; Kevin Dunne, Sean Dolan, Colin Egan; Shane Dooley, Joe Bergin, Kevin Connolly.
Subs: Andy Flynn for Houlihan (8), Dermot Shortt for Treacy (half-time), Conor Langton for Connolly (56), Mark Egan for Gath (70), Craig Taylor for Conneely (70).
REFEREE: John Keenan (Wicklow).