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06th Mar 2024

“I’ve had a couple of those days” – Nolan learning not to dwell on it in the school of hard knocks

Niall McIntyre

Spring has only just sprung but Chris Nolan has a lot of hurling done.

Juggling a Fitzgibbon Cup campaign with Carlow’s Allianz National Hurling League made for a hectic few weeks, especially when you consider that, throughout January and February, the pitches were most of the time wet and soggy.

But winter hurling has never been a glamour game.

Nolan doesn’t turn his nose up at a few dirty puddles but the Mount Leinster Rangers star would take the hard ground any day.

Last year, an extended run with the club brought them right up to the tail end of November but he was a long time getting over their Leinster quarter final loss to O’Loughlin Gaels.

Unless you win the All-Ireland, every clubs’ season ends in defeat but this one cut particularly deep because he really believed they could make a breakthrough.

“We were disappointed for a long time after that game,” he tells SportsJOE.

“We felt we didn’t do ourselves justice that day. We gave ourselves an awful lot to do, seven or eight down at half-time.”

The fact that he works as a sales agent covering Carlow and Kilkenny made it even harder to forget.

“We didn’t hurl well in that first half as a team.

“But that was hard to take because we felt like we were hurling a lot better coming into it.”

19 September 2021; Chris Nolan of Mount Leinster Rangers during the Carlow Senior County Hurling Championship Final match between Mount Leinster Rangers and St Mullins at Netwatch Cullen Park in Carlow. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Being a hurler from one of the developing counties, you’re more accustomed than most to the school of hard knocks and Nolan has learned to take the hits and stay going.

Through the winter he did have the highs of Carlow’s electric Joe McDonagh triumph to look back on, and the subsequent team holiday it earned them in Morocco from December 27 to January 3.

He felt that was a lovely touch that rewarded the team for their victory.

In fact, Nolan actually credits it for Carlow’s fast start in Division 2A of this year’s Allianz National Hurling League, with Tom Mullally’s side three from three ahead of a clash with Down this weekend.

“In other years we haven’t got off to the best of starts in the League, so this year was just about getting a bit of a foothold in the season.

“It was later by the time we got back training if anything else,” he says.

“We got that team holiday in Morocco, and that recharged us.”

“There was no training or anything out there, just a chance to let the hair down after Christmas there.

“I definitely think it brought us all closer together and after the year that we had, it was nice to do something like that.”

When we came back from that then, we were mad to go,” says Nolan, who scored a sensational winning point in extra-time of last year’s Joe McDonagh final.

Tough days

Nolan has had his fair share.

The hurlers from Carlow, Laois, Westmeath, Kerry, Offaly and Antrim and have all had their fair share.

Take Westmeath. Their Division One campaign began with a 31 point annihilation by Galway in Pearse Stadium. Antrim had it similar losing by 27 points to Limerick.

“I’ve had a couple of those days,” Nolan says with a wry smile.

“They’re not nice.

“But there’s nothing else you can do only dust yourself down and go again, get back training, try and look forward to the next one.”

Nolan played at the top tier for Carlow in both the League and the championship in 2019 and while they were for the most part competitive – they drew with Galway in the League and ran them to six points in the Championship – there were a few double-digit beating as well.

Some might say that, flying high in Division 2A, Carlow are better set for this year’s Leinster championship as things are but that’s not how Nolan sees it.

Big beatings against the game’s aristocrats are bad but he’s learned not to dwell on the bad days.

“Those are bitter pills to swallow those days but you have to think of the bigger picture as well. Those teams are competing at that level forever nearly.

“It’s not a simple thing to do but you have to realise that the teams you’re playing against are competing for All-Irelands.

“We’re a long way off competing for an All-Ireland. So you have to remind yourself of that and look forward to the next one.

Many will see them as whipping boys this summer but this is where he wants to be. And he certainly believes.

“You get sick of the moral victories too. They mean nothing to you either,” says the 26-year-old.

“It’s the level we’re trying to get up to.

“You lose by six or seven points and lads are tapping you on the back ‘well done, you could have won this, could have won that.’

“You get sick of that as well because you still lost the game. There’s a time when you want to go out and turn these teams over.

“We were there in 2019, some of us, and we saw the level we had to get to fitness wise, hurling wise and everything like that.”

Nolan says that to stay there, more will have to happen in terms of central funding, underage structures and GDOs. But for now, all he can do is mind his own house.

“That Leinster championship is what we’re trying to build towards at the minute.

“You take it game-by-game although it definitely is at the back of your mind.”

“We want to make it to Division One first, hurling against the elite of the elite.

“That’s where we want to get to now. That’s where every team in Division Two wants to be, and we’d feel now that we aren’t far off of that standard. You get more exposure up there. We want to get up there, to give that another rattle.”

Nolan is hoping this is the year Carlow do just that.

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