Carlow victory strikes a blow for the smaller counties
Unexpected victory over Wexford reignites debate over merits of graded championships
Carlow celebrate after the beating Wexford in the Leinster GAA Senior Football Championship first round at Cullen Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Carlow’s unexpected victory over Wexford on Sunday was the county’s first in the championship in six years. Back in 2011 they reached the Leinster semi-finals for the first time since the 1950s – coincidentally losing to Wexford on that occasion.
Luke Dempsey was the manager then and was thrilled at his former charges’ victory, which qualifies them for a quarter-final against champions Dublin.
“I used to live in Carlow and it was great to see the result. The provincial championship is the better for results like that.”
He also paid tribute to the county administrators with whom he worked up until 2012.
“When I was there I was so impressed with the county board and its officers. They were always strategically planning. There was always needs analysis done and they weren’t just happy to let a manager in and let him belt off and have a crack at it.
“They always planned and there was a committee to plan the centre of excellence in Fenagh which is now built. It’s up there with any of them and looks beautiful under the Blackstairs Mountains. The next project was to floodlight Dr Cullen Park, which has been done.
“It was a great county board to work with and dedicated to doing everything they could. For instance there was such co-operation between football and hurling – the county is split almost 50-50 – and they did everything they could to make it easy on the managers.”
Lack of depth
He says that despite this the lack of depth in county panels was always an issue. Between injuries and unavailability, it was rarely possible to command a full panel of 30 to 35.
Before the championship Carlow’s captain, Darragh Foley, outlined why he was sceptical about a graded championship to cater for smaller counties.
“Maybe it could be looked at farther down the line but we’re happy enough with the way it is and looking forward to the challenge this year. We look forward to it regardless. We’ve seen counties like Longford beating Monaghan last year and those kind of results that no one would have seen. We’ll try and take a giant killing if we can.”
During the league Carlow defeated Wexford by 10 points, helped by the latter’s decision to field trial teams once promotion had been achieved – but Wexford had been warned.
Dempsey instinctively disagrees with the view that counties are not better off in a tiered competition.
“I loved the national league because the eight teams are all really of the same standard. That’s good competition. This is like the FA Cup and Hartlepool or someone loving to get Man United even though they wouldn’t win. I never agreed with that and when Seán Kelly introduced the Tommy Murphy Cup I thought it would be great but they started to lose interest in it and put matches on secondary pitches.
“A pity because you could have a great competition with two 16s. But you’ve to balance that with the feeling the Carlow lads got yesterday. If players are content with that maybe there’s no need to change the system.”