Promotion odds stacked against Antrim after Carlow loss
Antrim 0-12 Carlow 1-12
“WE’RE actually going up, we’re actually going up!”, chorused out of the Carlow changing room after sealing promotion following a 33-year wait.
Antrim wouldn’t have been able to sing that themselves even if they had won, and they aren’t actually staying down for definite, but this defeat makes promotion highly unlikely for the Saffrons.
Lenny Harbinson and his men must hope that Carlow beat Laois next weekend while winning themselves in Limerick – and then also win away to Laois.
Little went Antrim’s way yesterday – including a red card, black cards, and conceding a bad goal – which is why a lot must go their way for the remainder of the League.
It’s a tall order, but Harbinson tried to remain upbeat afterwards, saying: “We’re disappointed, we wanted to win – but we’ve still got two games left. Yeah, the hill’s got steeper but we want to continue on and focus on Limerick, that’s all we can do.
“I’m sure Carlow want to go out of this competition unbeaten, I’m sure they’ve got pride in what they want to achieve. We have to focus on Limerick, that’s the key thing; we’ve got to get a result out of that game.”
In truth, the hosts never really looked like making home advantage count from the moment Carlow corner-forward Paul Broderick converted the first of seven successful frees for him with just a minute on the clock.
Harbinson pointed to this aspect of the game afterwards, which helped Carlow lead by six points to four at the break: “My frustration was that of the six scores they got in the first half, five came from frees – a wee lack of discipline in some of our tackling and maybe one or two easy frees.”
The Saffrons struggled to break down the visitors’ disciplined defence, with their skipper John Murphy a very effective sweeper.
Consequently, Antrim were almost always trailing in this game, apart from levelling at three points apiece midway through the first half, then getting to within a point (0-9 to 0-10) at a similar stage of the second period, despite having just been reduced to 14 men by the dismissal of Stephen Beatty.
One of many indications that it would be Carlow’s day was that the game’s crucial only goal came then, close to the hour mark, when a Broderick free surprisingly fell short of goal.
Darragh Foley seized on hesitancy from Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr to force the ball into the net from close range.
Harbinson understandably pointed to that as pivotal moment: “In the second half the boys really took the game to Carlow, showed a lot of pride in the jersey and commitment.
“It was just unfortunate that the goal came from a mistake after Matt Fitzpatrick had just scored a great point to take us within a point. The momentum was beginning to build and unfortunately we gave away a sloppy goal.”
The Antrim boss did not complain about the earlier red card – “To be honest, I didn’t see it. That’s just part and parcel of football” – a linesman seeming to indicate to the referee that the Rossa man went in with his knees on an opponent.
However, Harbinson was annoyed to lose his captain Kevin O’Boyle to a dubious black card 10 minutes before that, saying: “When you look at everything in the round, a number of times in the second half their men pulling our men down, and then Kevin gets a black card for that – there’s a lack of consistency.”
Referee Barry Judge was consistent in other regards at least, regularly issuing yellow cards and awarding frees. If capital punishment were still allowed he’d clearly be a hanging judge, his over-fussy approach making a tense match in difficult, blustery conditions into a very scrappy affair.
Carlow boss Turlough O’Brien, though, appeared genuinely bewildered when asked about the officiating – all he cared about, understandably, was achieving promotion:
“It’s massive for Carlow. A lot of this team are around for 10 years or more and they have seen really, really bad days for Carlow. I wouldn’t say we were written off, we weren’t even considered. They kept coming and coming and thanks be to God they have got their reward to get promoted.
“It’s about time these lads got a bit of success, got their day in the sun. I’m so delighted for these lads.”
Carlow did deserve this win, although Antrim did at least make them work for it even after losing a man and letting in the goal.
Although the Barrowsiders opened up a five-point gap – from a Broderick free, of course – following another Antrim black card, for Ricky Johnston, the Saffrons stuck at it, outscoring them by four points to two after that.
It wasn’t enough, obviously, but there’s still a glimmer of hope.
The consolation for Antrim is that Carlow really don’t like Laois, mention of whom made O’Brien’s broad smile turn into laughter: “We always want to beat Laois anyway, they’re our big rivals, are Laois. There’d be no love lost between the two counties.”
Antrim would love a Carlow win next weekend – unfortunately this one has left the Saffrons needing two of their own as well.