Carlow Senior Hurlers are just 70 minutes away from playing Division 1 Hurling.
Colm Bonnar’s charges are in the Division 2A National Hurling League Final and are gearing up for a massive showdown with Antrim in the decider this Saturday at 3pm in Newry.
It’s been a decent campaign for Carlow and they have gone through the group stages undefeated in their five games which included a draw against ‘The Saffrons’ at Netwatch Cullen Park in round 2.
That day Carlow conceded goals of a softish variety and should really have won the game. Antrim to their credit had some fine displays that day and there has seldom been no more than a puck of a ball between the two teams down through the years.
From the opposition point of view it’s great to see the Loughliel and Cushendall lads together on the panel because that has been a difficulty in previous years and of course the return of Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton to the management team has been a massive asset.
The venue and time for Saturday’s game has baffled many people, however a similar scenario arose back in 2014 when Mount Leinster Rangers played Loughliel Shamrocks at the same venue and Carlow people would be hoping for that to be a good omen in terms of the result.
I personally felt along with many that Parnell Park should have been the venue which would seem more neutral and the throw in time of 3pm will make it less encouraging for supporters to travel, but I would still hope that the people of Carlow get out and support the lads this Saturday.
In terms of selection, it’s probably the most difficult 26 man panel that Colm Bonnar or indeed any other Carlow manager has had to make. And I mean it when I say 26!
The players themselves have spoken of the difficulty in getting into the match day squad and this is so refreshing to hear. The starting 15 is a difficult one to pick even as a supporter so I can’t imagine how Colm Bonnar is feeling.
Last week’s win over Armagh saw Shane Kavanagh make his first real appearance of the year and that 70 minutes will have stood to him fierce, but even the great Myshall man himself might not get a place in the starting line up given how well the Carlow defence has been.
One player who has been rock solid despite the sceptics of some supporters is Paul Doyle. The St Mullins man is corner back for his club so it was a surprise to many when he was picked at Full Back for his county, but he hasn’t put a foot wrong all year.
James Carroll has now settled in between the sticks and he made a few great catches and saves against Armagh in particular while his long puckouts are a huge advantage. An interesting fact to note is that up until recent seasons Carroll wasn’t even no.1 for his club but he has really grasped his opportunity this year.
It’s unfortunate that Craig Wall is going to miss the League Final after being one of Carlow’s key performers during the group games. The Ballinkillen man suffered a knee injury last Sunday and the extent of the damage should be known over the next couple of days.
Speaking to KCLR, Carlow sharpshooter Marty Kavanagh said that Wall has been their best player this year so far.
“Craig has been definitely in my opinion our best player all the year so he has been chipping in there with 1-3 or 1-4 from play in every game so he is a massive loss.
“But again that’s where the panel come in and we have lads to come in for him and hopefully do the same same job as Craig did, but Craig is brilliant, he was there last night just shouting us on and he will always be around anyway.
“He is a great lad so we wish him a speedy recovery.” Kavanagh concluded.
Injuries have also hampered James O’Hara, Ger Coady, James Doyle and Brian Treacy and those four were starters last season so it just goes to show how strong this panel actually is.
The big thing for Carlow is to deliver the performance on Saturday when it matters the most. That in itself brings it’s own pressure, but these lads have played in All Ireland Finals, Fitzgibbon Finals and Leinster Finals so I think they will thrive on it.
If we get good weather then we could be in for an absolute cracker, but Antrim will mix it whatever way you want it and they will look to Ciaran Clarke, Paul Shiels, Niall McKenna along with outstanding goalkeeper Chris O’Connell and a host of other talented hurlers to claim the prize themselves.
Carlow will have to produce their best performance this year so far in order to beat Antrim and I think they will deliver on the day.