Tomorrow evening in Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow and Laois will be among the first counties to get the 2015 Leinster football championship under way. Beyond the attractions of neighbouring rivalry the match isn't expected to resonate long into the championship.
Carlow haven’t won this fixture since 1988 but next month though sees the 20th anniversary of the most controversial championship meeting between the counties. Played at O’Moore Park, over two afternoons, 18th and 25th June, the 1995 Laois-Carlow match was the first to be significantly affected by video evidence.
The pivotal moment came just a minute and a half from the end of the 70 minutes when Laois replacement
shot from close range and the point was awarded by Offaly referee
despite an immediate sense around the ground that it had been wide.
At other end in the time that remained, another replacement, Carlow's James Reid kicked a 20-metre shot wide having played on even though a free had been awarded. He later explained that he hadn't heard the whistle in the gathering tumult. There were scuffles on the sideline and the match ended in recrimination from Carlow and a certain sheepishness on the part of Laois.
Both counties were in fairly buoyant condition for this match. Laois, managed by former county captain and All Star Colm Browne, after a league campaign that saw them top Division One and reach the semi-finals were favourites but Carlow, although they had spent a nondescript league in Division Four, were a much improved force.
The county board had persuaded former Laois player Bobby Miller to take over the Carlow team after he had taken county champions Éire Óg to a couple of Leinster club championships and the 1993 All-Ireland final. He had brought the Éire Óg players with him – they had previously not all made themselves available – and the county had won the All-Ireland B title the previous November.
Carlow stayed the pace and at times looked the better team but with scores level at 2-10 to 1-13, Turley’s score for Laois’ 11th point looked to be the winner.
After the match Miller was angry and even Laois selector Des Brennan said of the winning point: “I though it was wide. I would have been satisfied with a draw 10 minutes from time.”
Further coals were heaped on the fire that night when the Sunday Game cameras demonstrated conclusively that the ball had gone wide. There was no provision in the rule book – nor is there now, as the more recent Meath-Louth 2010 Leinster final again demonstrated – to revise scorelines and outcomes in the light of video evidence.
The impasse was resolved when Laois offered a rematch, an offer happily accepted by the Leinster Council.
Championship sponsors Bank of Ireland presented the Laois County Board with a special “Fair Play” award, “to mark the county’s outstanding sportsmanship in offering a re-fixture”.
That was as far as the generosity went, however, although Carlow again put in a fine performance and led by five in the 46th minute. Michael Lawlor was the saviour for Laois, scoring 1-5 as his team eventually got home, 1-16 to 0-16.
There were no qualifiers 20 years ago and Carlow’s summer was over. Laois’s didn’t last much longer, as they lost to eventual All-Ireland winners Dublin in the next round.
Meanwhile, on Sunday Tipperary hurlers will play Dublin in a senior challenge at 7.0 in Drombane to mark the opening of local club Upperchurch Drombane’s new clubhouse. n The death has taken place of Tom Furlong from Tullamore, who emigrated to the United States where he was on the New York side to win the NFL title in 1967.