No divided loyalties for former Roche Emmets man Martin Carroll
By Damian Dolan
Martin Carroll doesn’t shy away from calling it how it is. London’s defeat to Sligo “cut real deep”. No disgrace in losing to a good Division 3 side in Sligo, motivated no doubt by banishing the memories of five years earlier, but it was the manner of it that rankles with the Exiles midfielder.
London didn’t set out in November to put in a performance like that. The league had hinted at so much more. Sligo was a chastening experience.
But they have one last shot at redemption – certainly a key word in the team’s preparations for Louth. A last throw of the dice, or speculative Hail Mary, for those 70 minutes against the Yeats men not to define their year.
“We want to throw off the shackles,” Carroll told the Irish World. “We want to put in the performance we know we’re capable of. We need to back ourselves, get into the game and get settled. We’ll then go from there.”
It’s clear London are still hurting.
He added: “It [Sligo] was one of the worst feeling afterwards. We’ve had a couple of hammerings in the championship over the years, and we’ve also come close, but that hurt the most. We thought we’d be there or thereabouts, but we just didn’t show up.”
Carroll doesn’t sugar coat it. He does, though, rue Mark Gottsche’s “harsh” black card at the start of the second half when the Exiles had some momentum.
It was Carroll that London boss Ciaran Deely turned to, to take Gottsche’s place in the middle of the field. Experience for experience.
It gave Carroll his fourth Connacht Championship appearance for the Exiles since making his London debut in a two-point defeat to Antrim in a first round qualifier in 2012.
Although on the panel in 2013, he didn’t feature in London’s march to a first-ever Connacht final, and on to Croke Park.
Galway in 2014 provided him with his Connacht debut and the following year he captained the Exiles against Roscommon. He sat out 2016 but returned in 2017 for the visit of Leitrim.
Last week’s first round draw restored the “bounce” in London’s stride, not evident in the days and weeks following Sligo. And for no one more so, than the former Roche Emmets man.
“I wasn’t secretly hoping it was Louth, I was openly hoping it was Louth,” said Carroll, who thinks too much has been made of the men from the Wee county’s record of played eight, lost eight this year.
“We’re definitely not underestimating Louth, they’re just not having a great season. They went up to Division 2 and even though they lost every game they’re still playing Division 2 teams.”
Sitting out 2016 meant Carroll missed the Exiles’ Division 4 trip to Drogheda Park – the most recent competitive match between the counties’. The Wee County won by 2-9 to 0-9 on their way to back-to-back promotions up to the second tier of the league.
It’s a game unlikely to have any bearing, however. While Louth can field just five survivors from that meeting, in goalkeeper Craig Lynch, Derek Maguire, Tommy Durnin, Declan Byrne and Conor Grimes, just four remain from London’s line up that day, Gavin McEvoy, Philip Butler, Colin Dunne and Adrian Moyles.
Good friends with Louth’s Jim McEneaney, who has been out since February with a shoulder injury, Carroll holds Louth’s double promotion up as testament to just “how strong they are”. They’re a team “not to be taken lightly” he warns.
“They’ll want us to come over, put us to the sword and kill any doubts. Give themselves a lift and maybe get a couple of games in the backdoor,” he said.
“A lot of people are focusing on how they haven’t won a game this year, but we know how fickle it is. We put Wicklow to the sword in Ruislip, but then they go out and beat Offaly.
“We’re not taking anything for granted, whether they’ve lost eight or not.”
Both sides will arrive at McGovern Park, therefore, with their own demons to exorcise. Both will want to get out in front. If that’s London, then maybe they can play on any brittleness in the Louth psyche. Despite their year, Louth will still be strong favourites and with that tag comes a pressure.
Carroll added: “If Louth hammer us it’ll be expected, but if they lose it will almost be expected as well, given the way their season’s gone so far. If we get ahead of them, maybe a bit of doubt will creep in.”
Up until moving to London in 2012, joining Parnells and being propelled into Paul Coggins’ panel, Carroll’s GAA highlight was captaining Roche Emmets in the 2010 series of Celebrity Bainisteoir.
After making his London inter-county debut against Antrim, he helped Parnells reach a senior championship semi-final. He’d never previously won a championship game with Roche Emmets.
2013 was Carroll’s first full year as an inter-county player. He started the Division 4 campaign but ankle ligament damage picked up in round 3 against Tipperary ruled him out for the remainder of the league, and left him a peripheral figure.
At MacHale Park, as his London teammates contested a first-ever Connacht final with Mayo, Carroll donned the maor uisce (water) bib. He then had to watch from the stands as the Exiles’ super summer came to an end against Cavan at Croke Park.
“When you’re part of a squad that’s what you do – you push other lads in training,” he says philosophically. The experience drove him on however.
“It’s very easy for someone to tell you that it’s great to be a part of a squad, but it’s hard when you’re just sitting there watching and you’re not getting a run.
“Mark [Gottsche] and I have said to each other a few times, you don’t just want to be remembered for 2013 and being part of that squad. You want to write your own history. We haven’t been able to do that.
“That was a really special year.….it’s something I’d really like to recreate.”
A win on Sunday could be the start of another adventure, even though that would mean completing Louth’s abject year and condemning them to a ninth straight loss. He’s hoping Louth will bring the best out of him.
“We played Louth once in a friendly under Paul Coggins and it was one of the best games I ever had. It definitely drives you on, it gives you a lift,” he said.
The Louthman is “definitely an Exile” now and has no doubts as to where his loyalties will lie on Sunday.