Another year draws to a close for Carlow GAA, so many memorable moments both on and off the field, where to begin ?! Probably at the beginning would be best…..
The year began with storm force weather rocking the south-east and both our Senior teams had promising early results with the Footballers in particular showing very well under the new management of Turlough O’Brien. Pat English was the new man at the helm of our Senior Hurlers and hopes were high for this talented bunch that large forward steps could be taken in 2015. The two Johns of Carlow GAA,; O’Mahoney and Allen were appointed to work with both teams respectively and their pedigree also brought grounds for optimism. GAA Congress 2016 was also decided in January and it was to great excitement that Carlow was announced as the host county. The GAA’s trademark event takes place next February in Mount Wolseley and promises a unique stage from which to showcase what Carlow has to offer.
The early part of 2015 also saw Carlow GAA bring two new sponsors on board in the shape of Tickets.ie and Mount Wolseley Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort. Exciting new partnerships and of course an exciting departure in that their brands would be worn on the all new Carlow jersey which was launched last February. Another ground-breaking event also hit the headlines early on as local giant Netwatch penned a deal for the naming rights to our old stadium and so DCP became NCP ! A hat-trick of sponsorship deals that would give a much needed boost to Carlow GAA and of course a boost to our perennial partners O’Neills as the new jersey hit the shelves !
Our U.21 Footballers under the stewardship of Willie Quinlan recovered from an early onslaught in Darver to mount a spirited fightback against Louth but unfortunately lost out in the finish. As our U.21s were stumbling so too our Seniors were beginning to wobble. An early hard-fought draw on the road against Antrim and a particularly dramatic win against Waterford looked to have the Footballers primed for a tilt at promotion. The wheels unfortunately came off against Offaly however as some extraordinary decisions by the officials left us tasting defeat and after such a promising start their league season petered out. The Hurlers also saw the chance to climb out of Div. 2A crumble against our old foes Kerry and Westmeath. Championship was now the focus of both teams and the time to regroup was short.
The rebranded Carlow Colts, our underage Talent Academy Squad system, were starting to gain traction with Carlow GAA scouts regularly seen at U.14 matches across the County searching for likely candidates to become Colts. The Colts would go on to put in a great block of work over the year that is still continuing up to this day. Carlow GAA’s Club-School Link Programme was also beginning to take shape as Spring rolled into early Summer with all Clubs really starting to buy into the ethos. Steady increases in Club participation levels are projected as this Programme really puts down roots across all our Primary Schools. The added benefit of New Ireland Assurance sponsoring the Programme really showed how seriously the County Board were taking this initiative.
The real highlight of late Spring came in the shape of Carlow CBS who claimed a stunning victory in the All Ireland Schools Final in Croke Park. Backboned by the Carlow Minor Footballers, who themselves had a huge league win over Cork in NCP some weeks earlier, the CBS team brought great pride and joy to all who watched this great Carlow institution climb the steps and receive the Drummond Cup. The Minor Hurlers were also heavily involved in school’s activity as Borris VS in particular were to the fore early before bowing out. Both Minor teams were focused on their respective Championship ties as the exam break came around.
The smell of cut grass signified the start of Summer and so too Championship fever. The Footballers welcomed Laois to NCP and a large crowd arrived in hope more than expectation. A tough evening ensued and our bitter rivals claimed a scalp on their way to the next round. A disappointing end to the provincials for Turlough’s Team and so it was left to the Hurlers to see what could be salvaged from our All Ireland hopes. Having suffered two heartbreaking narrow defeats against Westmeath, (again) and Laois, we still had a mathematical chance of qualifying for the Liam McCarthy proper if we could win against Antrim and other results were to go our way. A superb performance against the Saffrons saw us in with a fighting chance up to the last few minutes but the Laois men again put paid to our dreams as they eked out the all important win. Longford lay in the long grass of the qualifiers but Glennon Bros. Pearse Park was to prove a graveyard for Carlow teams as both the Senior and Minor football team’s seasons came to an end in the midlands. The Minor Hurlers bowed out too in disappointing fashion but as with all our teams this year promise of better days ahead was shown by all and we will get behind them again as is the requirement of all good supporters when the 2016 season rolls in !
The highlight of the Summer was undoubtedly the coming of Feile Peil na nÓg to town. The weekend was an unqualified success with Carlow being the perfect hosts for visiting teams from all corners of the world. Myshall and Palatine boys kept the spoils at home while the girls of Old Leighlin also did their bit for the County. A huge debt of gratitude must go to Michael O’Brien and Mick Murphy who organised the Carlow end and of course to all the families who hosted the teams, it was a weekend that will live long in memory. July and August also saw an big increase in the number of children participating in the Kellogs GAA Cúl Camps. The fun aspect of the Camps alongside the cúl new gear proved a winner across the island as numbers reached record breaking heights. Another evening to remember was the U21 Huling Championship against Kilkenny. On a balmy midsummer’s night Johnny Nevin’s lads took on the famed black and amber and gave the large crowd something to shout about as they ran the opposition to two points. The Cats used up some of their 9 lives that evening but Carlow surely saw it as opportunity lost.
The Club championships threw in as the inter-county seasons ended and there were skills and thrills aplenty to keep all GAA fans entertained through the Autumn months. One team still representing Carlow however were the Camógie ladies who were to emerge as All Ireland Junior A champions in August as they took the scalp of Kerry. A wonderful achievement and testament to the work put in by all involved. Also in August the County Board announced their intention to re-create the County Finals of 1916 on April 2nd next. Carlow GAA were the first County to announce such a commemorative 1916 event and held in conjunction with Carlow Tourism it is hoped we will put on a show that is befitting of the occasion.
Coach Education was starting to really grab Clubs’ attention as the Autumn Series of courses saw all of them packed to capacity. Carlow GAA will benefit enormously over the next few years as coaches realise that the upskilling process will ultimately produce better players at Club level. The Mandatory Standards initiative introduced by the GAA ensures that all Clubs must now make it a matter of policy that anyone wishing to train teams must complete their coaching badges. A free programmes of Spring courses offered by Carlow GAA to all Clubs who meet certain criteria has the goal of creating 75 Award 1 qualified coaches. This exciting prospect should give real weight to Carlow GAA’s slogan; BETTER COACHES = BETTER PLAYERS.
The silverware was handed out in October and the big ball winners were Palatine, O’Hanrahans and Grange respectively with the Palatine Minors completing a unique double for the Bennekerry outfit. St. Mullins, MLR and St. Patricks landed the spoils in the Hurling deciders with the men from the south giving a top class display in the Senior Final against old foes MLR. Leinster was to prove a disappointing experience for most of our teams but Grange in particular brought Carlow on a great journey before falling at the penultimate stage.
Club Carlow was given a makeover and offered a brand new selection of packages to suit all supporters just in time for Christmas. An official 2016 membership event is to be announced in the near future. IT Carlow has been an invaluable support network over the course of 2015 and it is heartening to see so many of the students putting their expertise into practice with our teams. The links forged with our local institution will no doubt benefit Carlow GAA over the coming years. As the year drew to a close so too did the reign of Michael Meaney as County Chairman. A lot of the excellent work carried out by the Chairman and the Board often goes unseen but this year in particular the tremendous foresight by these men was really evident as our Training Centre in Lumcloon, Fenagh underwent Phase 2 of its development. The TC has been called the ‘jewel in our crown’ and with so many teams from Go Games level upwards benefitting from the facility it is easy to see why. Meaney was instrumental in the decision making process to set up camp in the site near Fenagh and its central location has benefitted all Carlow’s Clubs. We wish Michael and of course our Treasurer Mick Byrne, who also did incredible work during his tenure, the very best wherever the future takes them. We also wish our incoming Treasurer Cormac O’Toole and the man entrusted with the keys to the kingdom, Sean Campion nothing but good luck in continuing on the job. The announcement of the 2015 Awards completed the year’s work with Ciaran Moran and for the second time in as many years Marty ‘Mouse’ Kavanagh grabbing the two Senior gongs. Well done to all the Award winners and a great night lies in store on the 16th Jan. next in Mount Wolseley.
As the old year merges with the new, let’s take this opportunity to wish all our members and supporters a Happy New Year. A special word of thanks to all those volunteers out there who make the GAA the special organisation that it is. A new era is dawning, let’s hope it brings a 2016 for all the Carlow GAA family to enjoy.