"I saw the crowd on the field. I was thinking: 'Feck, this is huge, like'"

Carlow recorded a famous victory over last year’s Leinster finalists on Sunday, with Paul Broderick contributing 11 points.

Image: Ken Sutton/INPHO

YOU HAVE TO go back 65 years to find the last time that Carlow beat neighbours Kildare in a championship match.

An old report from the local paper, The Nationalist, at the time that was re-run recently read: “The entire Carlow side did a lot of good work and there is not really a weak link in the team”.

History is apparently repeating itself as that line could very easily be included in match reports of the most recent encounter.

Tinryland’s sharp shooter Paul Broderick contributed 11 points to Carlow’s final tally of 2-14 in sunny Tullamore, and was still soaking it all in on the way home from work yesterday.

“It’s absolutely brilliant today”, says Broderick. “I drove downtown earlier to take it in. To walk around for a while. To meet some people – Carlow people. It’s terrific, like. A great buzz.”

When the team arrived back to Carpenter’s Bar in Carlow town last night, they were met by a huge crowd of fans, soaking in a memorable day.

“It was packed. They were drinking outside. The path was full. We were out on the road. The place was buzzing.”

The Carlow Rising that started with an impressive championship run last year has no intentions of slowing down. The gravity of the win for the Barrowsiders wasn’t unnoticed by their opponents either, as Broderick recalled an encounter with Kildare’s Kevin Flynn towards the end of the match.

“Kevin Flynn was standing there beside me and he just said ‘Jesus this is a big one for ye’. He was acknowledging it. ‘You’ve no idea where we’ve come from’ is all I said to him.

“He would have started playing with Kildare back when they were contending All-Irelands and contending Leinsters – and still are. Let’s be fair. It’s not as if Kildare are dead and buried. But I can’t imagine what that’s like. To be from a county where [you're contesting those].

“I got a chance to run into the dressing room. I had a look and I came back out and I saw the crowd on the field. I was just thinking: ‘Feck. This is huge, like.”

Carlow supporters celebrate on the pitch after the gameA view of the Carlow pitch invasion after Sunday's game.Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO
The historic win is just the latest in a solid run of form for the Scallion Aters, as they come off the back of securing promotion to Division Three for the first time in 33 years.

Now, with that win over Kildare, they've booked their place in the Leinster semi-final, but it's getting one-up on their neighbours for the first time in 65 years that most Carlovians are enjoying.

"Chatting to a few Carlow people, the focus is more on the fact that we managed to beat Kildare. The fact that they're a Division One team.

"I would have thought about it happening. You would have visualised beating them and all that, but then that's if everything goes to plan. And things just happened to go to plan.

Although Kildare were never a million miles away, and spent the majority of the game in the Carlow half, the Carlow team were a lot more clinical in their efforts. Of the 26 shots taken, they didn't record a single wide.

The Division Four league final, in which Carlow lost to Laois, painted a very different picture, with many balls dropping short or going wide of the mark.

"Yesterday [Sunday] we took the right options", said Broderick. "Whereas if you were to look at that game in Croke Park, we made a lot of mistakes.

"It's not something that we said 'let's do loads of shooting or let's not kick wides'. I suppose it's always the plan to kick less of them. But they were two extremes.

"I think the Laois game we probably kicked more than we had in a long time. And yesterday [Sunday] - I saw your man @dontfoul on Twitter and he said he doesn't have a stat like it anywhere in his database. It was just one of those days."

In the run up to Carlow's championship opener with Louth, Carlow boss Turlough O'Brien told The42 that the depth and perception of Croke Park can play tricks on forwards who aren't used to it.

Broderick scored two points in that game and confirmed that shooting in GAA HQ was different to other pitches around the country.

"I was chatting to Benny Coulter and he made that comment to me before we ever went up there. I suppose, 45 yards is 45 yards - you can gauge your distances and stuff. But it's mad. It seems like a longer 45 yards than other pitches.

"I don't know if it's the backdrop or what it is. But he said just mind out for that, as a piece of advice and he was dead right. I suppose we dropped, myself included, an awful lot of shots from play short on that day.

"It's nice to have that experience in the bag for a lot of us - the first time playing in Croke Park. You would hope we wouldn't be over awed by the occasion next time as much.

"It was my first time - bar mini-sevens when I was in sixth class - it was my first time playing in Croke Park. And at the time you're thinking: 'Jesus, I'm not going to get over-awed by it' but then when you look back at it you're thinking 'Jesus, I was going around with my mouth open for periods before the game even'."

It won't be too long again before Broderick is aiming for the Croke Park posts, as they meet rivals Laois in the next round of the championship there on 10 June, to finish off the trilogy.

The Carlow-Laois neighbourly rivalry has made the other two games so far this year tense affairs. It's something that plays even more so on Broderick's mind, as he has been teaching in a Laois secondary school for the last nine years.

"Ah there'd be a bit of guff and a bit of craic. They're lovely kids. There was a bit of banter in the corridor today and I just laughed at it. You couldn't but laugh at it. It's all in good spirits. I'd be giving it back just as good."

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The third instalment in the 2018 Carlow-Laois trilogy will be more of the same, with a Leinster final against either Dublin or Longford up for grabs. Carlow have lost both games against Laois so far, the league final mentioned above, and the week before in the final league game, although that day there was a single point in the difference.

"I don't know what it is we need to do. That's what these two weeks will be about for us. We certainly need to do something because the first two days hasn't worked. But what that something is, I don't know.

"But I think the belief is there. I think it'll be a cracking game. I think it'll be close no matter what. I would see a margin of anything from nought to five points for either team.

"Laois will probably edge the favouritism with the bookies given that they've had their victories over us this year, and deservedly so. And that's not just playing the eejit and talking them down. They genuinely should be favourites but I don't think there will be too much in it."

Of course, the Carlovians will be contending the Leinster semi-final without one of their leaders of recent years, Brendan Murphy. The Rathvilly man announced last month that he was away to America for the summer, and so Carlow are planning their summer without him.

"I'd say lads didn't really know what to make of the situation when it was actually unfolding," said Broderick.

"In fairness to Brendan he came out, which probably wasn't easy, and he spoke to the whole group in the dressing room. With a very heavy heart. That training session and probably the one after it was a bit dead. But one thing it has instilled in us is that the team is bigger than any one player.

"We've had games where a fella gets injured. We had games where people couldn't play. We had a couple of games last year without Brendan. We play a different style without Brendan.

"Because he's such a big influence when he is there, a lot of the plan would revolve around him. So I suppose it was a blow in that manner. But the timing of it helped allowed us to build back up. We had that couple of weeks to go: 'right, it is what it is and we need to regroup for Louth'."

And regroup they did, with Eoghan Ruth slotting into the vacant midfield position. Looking at their efficiency as they beat Kildare, you wouldn't think that they were a team who had lost one of their star players so recently.

You have to go all the way back to 1944 for the first, and only time, that Carlow won a Leinster final. With Dublin's dominance in Leinster in recent years, it's still hard to fathom another county coming out on top, but the prospect of even playing in a Leinster final is something that will put fire in the bellies of the Carlow men as they face Laois, as if they needed anything else.

"It's a hard one to sum up because in ways we've a mountain to climb. If you look at it on paper they've beaten us twice. But they're a Division Four team this year just like us. They won a lot of their games by similar margins. They've had a similar path - two games into this. I don't think there's going to be a whole lot in it.

"You do dare to dream but I suppose I don't want to let the mind wander too much. Laois could turn around and give us a hiding and I'd regret that. It's one game at a time but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited by the prospect of it.

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Eoin Lúc Ó Ceallaigh

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