Carlow fighting on two fronts as Down prepare for visit to Dr Cullen Park
CARLOW manager Turlough O'Brien says his men are “fighting relegation” now but he still hasn't given up on promotion as he prepares for the visit of Division Three leaders Down on Saturday.
Beating the Mournemen at Dr Cullen Park and then neighbours Laois (in their final fixture) would bring the Barrowsiders up to nine points and, as O'Brien says: Who knows where that could leave them in the final reckoning?
“We're disappointed we didn't win more games,” said O'Brien.
“We could have been safe by now but now we're fighting relegation although we could just as easily be in the promotion positions and, if we win our last two games, we could end up on nine points.
“We need to get at least a point from the last two games to stay up but if we win them and results go the right way, who knows where we'll be at the end of the League?”
O'Brien, who guided Carlow to promotion and a Leinster Championship semi-final last year, has watched Down twice in Division Three this season. He noted how the traditional Down style has been sacrificed for defensive substance but says Mourne fans won't mind that if it brings success to their county.
“I saw them against Laois and I was at the Westmeath game as well. They are all very accomplished footballers, as you'd expect, and they run the ball very well,” he said.
“It wouldn't be a traditional Down style that they're playing at the minute but, it's like everything else, it's effective football and winning football. I'm sure nobody in Down would be disappointed if Down get promotion the way their playing.”
Carlow were promoted last year, their first promotion for 33 years, and one of the hallmarks of the Stevie Poacher-coached side is that they constantly raise the bar higher and are always looking to improve. O'Brien's men began with a win and a draw before back-to-back defeats left them flirting with relegation. Doubters crowed that the side had reached its limit but Carlow put them in their place with a one-point victory over top dogs Louth.
“We played very well against Louth,” said O'Brien.
“It was the first game in the League when we really had the bit between our teeth.
“We weren't playing particularly well but we were still very much in contention in all those other games and we could have done better. It's a very competitive division, there's nothing between any of the teams and that's the reality.
“We had an awful lot of injuries pre-season and we never got to have 15 versus 15 in training and that hampered our preparations. We were playing a lot of small-sided games over half the pitch, that type of thing and we didn't really open up our game until last week.
“The lads are very ambitious, they wanted to stay up in the first place but we always felt that we could match any of the teams on our day and we could easily have been sitting at the top of the table as two from the bottom.
“It's dog-eat-dog because teams are taking points off each other and nothing might be decided until the last round is played.
“We had some very good performances against Louth, it was very encouraging and hopefully we'll be in a good place going into the game against Down.”
The Carlow cause will be boosted by the return of key forward Paul Broderick on Saturday. Broderick missed the win against Louth but contributed a match-winning 1-5 against Sligo in Carlow's opener and a total of 1-7 in the two other games he has featured in.
“He should be back,” said O'Brien.
“We could have played him against Louth for the last 20 minutes but we didn't want to risk him because, if he got a setback, he would miss the last two games for definite.
“We decided to go without him and give him a chance to recover properly because he is slow to recover from injuries. He had his spleen removed after a bad accident on the football field when he was playing minor and when when you lose your spleen you are very slow to recover from illness and injury as well.
“So when he gets a bad injury it can take a while for it to clear up and that's what's happened to him but he should be ready for the Down game.”