Sometimes it seems in the remarkably fickle world of the GAA that we are simply never happy. Sure why would we be, if there was nothing to give out about, what would be the point? Carlow, and their loyal, hardcore following have never pretended to be anything else, have gone out every game with the intent of putting it up to whomever they face, irrespective of the odds against them. Punters who have preached long and loud about how Carlow, Westmeath, Laois and other second-tier counties need to be playing against the top brass now question the merit of Carlow’s inclusion in Leinster, saying it hands their competitors an unfair advantage and will pulverise the progress made in recent years.
As New York senior football manager Justin O’Halloran said recently, “If the underdog was never to win, the underdog would never play”. Carlow has four senior hurling clubs. Galway are the 2017 All-Ireland champions, and 2018 runners-up and they are playing at home. It is very unlikely that an upset will occur. But they have earned their place, earned their right to play the best and will go there with nothing whatsoever to lose. If Carlow were to take points off any of their opponents, it would be a monumental achievement, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. Statistically, it would appear as though their third-round home game to Dublin is their best opportunity to lay a trap and pickpocket some points.
Offaly lost each of their four championship games last season by an average of 16 points, and never looked even remotely like causing an upset in any of them. They deservedly found themselves relegated and will, for the good of hurling in the county and province, hopefully regroup and come back up this year, or the next, revitalised and with renewed vigour. But in their place enters a county with an entirely different ambiance surrounding them. Without too much history or tradition to weigh them down with expectation, they have launched themselves into this quest with admirable courage.
They maintained their Division 1B status, defeating Offaly in the relegation final, and picked up two points from two draws during the campaign, the highlight being that famous result against Galway. It’s undeniable that Galway in February and Galway in May are frightfully different beasts, but why should they fear any side this season? Their in uncharted territory on a splendid adventure. The odds are stacked heavily against them, but they haven’t paid too much attention to that in the past. The entire country will be rooting for them at every turn, and, God willing, we’ll see the rastafarian tide rise in the summer sun once again.
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