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'When I was a young lad I used to only go to Kilkenny games. You wouldn’t be going to Carlow matches'

Martin Kavanagh says his side is looking forward to a local derby with the Cats in the Leinster SHC.

Carlow's Martin Kavanagh.
Carlow's Martin Kavanagh.
Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

CARLOW FORWARD MARTIN Kavanagh says their upcoming Leinster clash with Kilkenny is a fixture that “really caught our eye” as they prepare for a local derby in Netwatch Cullen Park next month.

Kavanagh grew up on the border between the two counties, and can remember days when he only supported the neighbouring side in hurling, with Henry Shefflin being his main idol.

Now that Carlow have established themselves in the small ball game, things are about to come full circle for Kavanagh.

Carlow booked their spot in the Liam MacCarthy competition after winning the Joe McDonagh Cup last year and a championship tie with the Cats is a dream scenario for him.

“Carlow will be packed, local derby as well,” he says with excitement.

“It’s great. When I was a young lad I used to only go to Kilkenny games. Carlow hurling… my father was a big Kilkenny man and so were his brothers.

Brian Cody Brian Cody and his charges will be coming to Netwatch Cullen Park next month. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

You wouldn’t be going to Carlow matches, you’d be going to Kilkenny matches. Now Brian Cody and these are coming to town and you’re playing them.”

Before they take on Kilkenny, Carlow will get their Leinster campaign underway against Galway.

Kavanagh says “it’s a pity” that Joe Canning will be unavailable for that fixture, after being sidelined for four months with a groin injury which he sustained in the Allianz League semi-final against Waterford.

Carlow will travel to Salthill for that game and Kavanagh says that their league encounter earlier this year gave the Carlow contingent an “appetite of what is to come” in their Leinster tie.

But he would still prefer to take on the 2017 All-Ireland champions with Canning at their disposal.

“He’s their main man for the last 10 or 12 years.

Obviously, it does help going up. It still would be nice if he was playing. He was playing in Carlow in the league game. You can look at it both ways – it can be daunting or you can man up.

“For our lads, they’d look at it as a great task to try and handle him. Which isn’t easy. But you see where you’re at. It’s a pity he is out because he was hurling some stuff. It will help us, no doubt about it, to try and go up there and get something out of it.”

That league game between Carlow and Galway back in February ended in a draw, with Kavanagh nailing a late equalising free to ensure a share of the points.

Reflecting on that game where he pocketed 0-11, Kavanagh insists that he didn’t know it was the last puck of the game, and is grateful that he didn’t make any inquiries about the time to the referee.

Martin Kavanagh Martin Kavanagh in action for Carlow during the 2019 league. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Thank God,” he says. “Didn’t ask the question.

“I knew it was late but I just brushed myself down. Got into my routine. Lift and strike. There was a Carlow crowd behind, I knew from the roar that it was over. Went straight over the black spot. Ref blew it up then off the puck-out.

It was massive. Great for us knowing that the work we’re doing is showing off. We’re under no illusions either that Galway are looking at summer hurling rather than February hurling.

“But they had a good team out that day too, had a lot of their main lads. And we mixed it with them. Great to get something out of it.”

That result proved to be crucial at the end of the league campagin, as Carlow rallied from 11 points down to defeat Offaly in a relegation play-off and preserve their Division 1 status.

Carlow managed to complete the comeback with just 14 players on the pitch for an hour of the game, which makes their achievement all the more impressive.

Those two ties against Galway and Kilkenny will be difficult way for Carlow to start life in the Liam MacCarthy Cup, but picking up results there could be crucial for them in their bid to avoid relegation.

“It would be just to stay up would be the number one objective,” says Kavanagh when outlining Carlow’s priorities for the Leinster championship.

“To be competitive in every game will be a lot of it as well. We’ve Galway away, Kilkenny and Dublin at home and then Wexford away. It’s important to be competitive.

“It is hard because to progress you want to be at that level and we could play the game and get beaten by two or three points and could get relegated and then we’re back down in Joe McDonagh.

No disrespect to the Joe McDonagh level but obviously the Leinster championship is a higher standard and for you to improve you have to be at that level. It’s a hard one to know, you’re getting matches and I suppose that’s the main thing.”

Kavanagh made the decision to head for America after the league finished up last year, and spent his summer days playing hurling in San Francisco.

Manager Colm Bonnar understood his desire to see a bit of the world, having travelled abroad himself, and Kavanagh enjoyed the experience of playing alongside players from other counties.

The travel plans ruled Kavanagh out of Carlow’s Joe McDonagh campaign, which culminated in a successful outing against Westmeath in Croke Park, but he has no regrets about his choice.

“I was there with Killian Doyle from Westmeath, and he would be a main player for them,” Kavanagh explains.

“The two of us were like ‘the one time we go away, they get to Croke Park!’ I was listening to it, and I was talking to my mother and all on the phone and face time after, it was great.

“It worked out grand after, the boys won and I got to go to America for the Summer.” 

Martin Kavanagh was speaking at the launch of the Beko Club Bua programme 2019, the quality mark for Leinster GAA clubs.

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