Ciarán Murphy: joy as Carlow complete mission in style

For the first time in 33 years, the county have secured promotion from Division Four

Carlow footballers have already achieved what few other counties will achieve this year – their primary objective. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Carlow footballers have already achieved what few other counties will achieve this year – their primary objective. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

If you aren’t on twitter, then maybe the news that Carlow won promotion from Division 4 last Sunday would have passed you by. If you are on twitter, then you could hardly have escaped it. Their celebrations had gone halfway around the GAA world before they had gotten out of the showers in the dressing room after their 1-12 to 0-12 win over Antrim.

And why not – they have been in Division Four since 1985. Lads born in 1985 in any county nowadays are prime candidates for retirement, so it’s fair to say it’s been a playing lifetime since Carlow have been anywhere other than the basement.

For many people, their twitter account has replaced the ol’ transistor as the quickest place to get information on games involving their counties. If you were waiting on RTÉ Radio One to get around to Division 4 games, there could be 12 or 15 minutes between score updates, and that wasn’t going to cut it on Sunday, when Carlow needed a result against Antrim to ensure a sixth straight win in Division Four, and a ticket out of there.

So if you logged onto the official Carlow GAA twitter on Sunday afternoon, you would have gotten blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute news bulletins which, as they always do in these situations, became more frenzied and personalised as the finishing line moved into view. I’ll spare you the memes and the emojis, but the last few minutes were little haikus of nervous tension.

And after that – the scenes of celebration on the field, the pictures from the dressing room, the team sing-song on the bus . . . we got a look at what promotion means, and it looked like a lot of fun.

As the songs died down, and the satisfaction hit home, some more considered messages, this time from the players, started coming through.

“Eleventh time’s a charm”, said long-time campaigner Daniel St Ledger. Their midfielder Brendan Murphy wrote – “this is huge, this is our All-Ireland”.

This is probably something we should take a moment to consider. While we talk all the time about the shadow-boxing that goes on in the higher divisions, when it comes to Division Four this time of year – February and March, with all the attendant complications of Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup, and club finals – is the real season.

It was brilliantly chronicled in Damian Lawlor’s book Working On A Dream – A Year On The Road With The Waterford Footballers, which followed them throughout the 2009 season. That book, in ways, should have been a lightbulb moment for people. As it was for Waterford then, and is for Carlow now, promotion was an achievable aim, and a run through the qualifiers was in the ha’penny place.

Early summer

The Carlow footballers were the story of early summer last year. They beat Wexford in the first round of the Leinster championship, they gave Dublin plenty of it in the ensuing quarter-final, and then won two games in the qualifiers before being knocked out by Division One regulars Monaghan . . . but only after giving them a massive scare in a televised game in Dr Cullen Park.

Both of the qualifier wins were against fellow Division Four sides London and Leitrim, not that that mattered particularly given how well they performed against Dublin and Monaghan, but those pairings did illustrate how progression in the qualifiers can be as much luck as anything else. Carlow could have been having a terrible year, and might still have ended up in the third round of the qualifiers with that kind of draw.

Players don’t want their season defined by luck, and it had nothing to do with their league campaign this year. Over six weekends they had to prove they were too good for Division Four 4, and they did it. That’s the sort of progress that anyone can believe in.

There aren’t many teams that will look back in October of 2018 and say – we achieved our main objective this season. The team that wins the All-Ireland, of course, will be in that position. A provincial title would be a tonic for a few counties, particularly those in Division Two – but there’s every chance that won’t happen. The sense of satisfaction Carlow feel right now is just not very common.

Tipperary and Clare were both still in Division Four as recently as 2014. Now Clare are safe for a second successive season in Division Two, and if Tipperary win their last two games, they’ll be promoted to Division One. And what you can see in both of those teams is that they have no problem whatsoever getting dialled in for league football.

They might have their time in Division Four to thank for it, but they see the league as the best barometer of their position in the world. Giving them a tournament in the summertime that they feel the same about would be great too, but that’s another day’s work.

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