By Kevin Regan
Carlow produced their best championship performance for many years to see off neighbours Wicklow, in the All Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday night.
It was a game in which Carlow led from start to finish, with Brendan Murphy and Sean Gannon absolutely magnificent at midfield from pillar to post.
Carlow enjoyed the aid of a stiff breeze in the first half and frees from Daniel St Ledger and Darragh Foley got them off the mark, before Gannon fed Murphy who in turn blasted past Robert Lambert to give them an early five point lead.
Paul Cunningham got Wicklow off the mark on 12 minutes, but three more frees from Foley gave Carlow a 1-6 to 0-1 lead after 20 minutes in a spell where Robbie Molloy pulled off a wonderful save from Paul Cunnigham.
Murphy could have goaled again soon after, but his attempted lob just carried over the bar and instead Paul Cunningham found the net at the far end to cut the gap to three points.
Chris Blake and Murphy then added scores in reply and a free from Cunnigham meant that Wicklow just trailed by 1-9 to 1-5 at the interval.
At this point many felt that Carlow may not have done enough while they were on top, however they continued where they left off immediately after the break as captain Darragh Foley knocked over a point off each foot from play, although Wicklow’s Darren Hayden slotted two points in response.
Robbie Molloy then produced another fantastic save to turn another Cunningham effort over the bar, and Brendan Murphy then brought his tally to 1-4 from play with a point off either foot at the far end.
Mark Kenny managed to pop over two scores for the Garden County but they just couldn’t close the gap as late frees from St ledger and Foley gave Carlow a deserved victory and a place in the next round of the Qualifiers.
Carlow: Robbie Molloy; Kieran Nolan, Daniel St Ledger (0-3f), Barry John Molloy; Gary Kelly, John Murphy, Benny Kavanagh; Brendan Murphy (1-4), Sean Gannon; Alan Kelly, Darragh O’Brien, Hughie Gahan; Donal Smithers, Darragh Foley (0-8, 5f), Chris Blake (0-1).
Subs: Graham Power (0-1) for O’Brien (black card), Danny Moran for G Kelly, Brian Murphy for J Murphy, J Murphy back on for B Murphy (black card), Brian Cawley for Gannon (black card)
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Ciaran Hyland, Paul McGloughlin, Arran Murphy (0-1); Jamie Snell, Dean Healy, Stephen Kelly; Niall Gaffney, Anto McGloughlin; Mark Kenny (0-2), Rory Finn (0-1), Darren Hayden (0-2); Paddy Byrne, Paul Cunnigham, (1-6, 4f), Marc Lennon.
Subs: Sam Thompson for Lennon, Danny Woods for Gaffney, Ross O’Brien for A McGloughlin, Pat O’Connor for Finn, John Crowe, for Hayden, Michael O’Connor for Byrne.