TAKE Carlow for granted at your peril – that’s the one message above all others which Mickey Harte is drilling into his players.
The Leinster outfit have captured the imagination of the public under Turlough O’Brien and his colourful sidekick Steven Poacher, achieving promotion in the spring before knocking out Kildare in the provincial championship.
They even coined a term for their change of fortunes – the ‘Carlow Rising’ – but sentimentalism doesn’t really cut it as an explanation for their success.
Instead, they have the second best defensive record in the country across league and championship, conceding less than 12 points a game.
They have have been described by everybody’s favourite provocateur Joe Brolly as playing ‘abysmal, defensive football’, so Saturday has the potential to be a long afternoon.
Harte said: “They’ve made good progress this last number of years under Turlough O’Brien and they got out of Division Four for the first time in 35 years.
“That didn’t just happen this year, they’ve been building this last number of years and Steven Poacher has come in and gave the team that sense of organisation.
“Together the team work well and they have obviously a defensive mentality about the way they play the game and it has served them well because obviously they have got promotion which they weren’t able to achieve for a lot of years. It got them to a Leinster semi-final, and they put Monaghan to the pin of their collar at the same venue we’re going to.”
Unfortunately, injured duo Mark Bradley and Lee Brennan will play no part on Saturday, but Harte confirmed that Cathal McCarron is available having sat out their round one qualifier against Meath with a chest infection.
That leaves the door open for some less established forwards to grab their chance, including Harry Loughran who came off the bench to score the all-important goal against the Royals.
“Harry has always been a good goal poacher and lo and behold he poached one for us too. It was well set up for him by Ronan O’Neill.”
“It’s good to have, he’s been terribly troubled with injury since he’s come into our panel and he’s never got a run at all in terms of being injury free.
“We knew he had a lot of quality, hopefully he stays injury free. He has back problems that are basically chronic, we have to manage that. It’s nice to know he has the capacity to come off the bench and be an influence in a game like that against Meath.”
Harte was pleased by the manner of Tyrone’s nerve-racking win over Meath.
They were seconds away from a shock championship exit before Cathal McShane saved their bacon with the last kick of the game to send the match to extra-time, but he wasn’t the only player who stepped up to the plate.
“A lot of things happen on the day that are all good on the day when you win.
“We could have lost the game just as easily, and then all those things would have been of no value to us.
“We have to make sure that we make the new experiences that some of those boys had on that day work to our advantage.
“We need to bring that experience back to our next game, because in the Qualifiers, there’s always going to be days like that, when you’re living on the edge, and you have to be able to get through that edge.
“And that is the one good thing out of the Meath game, that we were in a very difficult place and a number of players stood up and were counted.”