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Down's loss is Carlow's gain as Poacher makes his presence felt

 

By Declan Bogue

When the Sky TV cameras roll into Portlaoise tomorrow evening to get their first sight of Championship-mode Dublin in the flesh, they just might catch a glimpse of a Down man embedded in the romantic Carlow backstory.

Late last year, former Newry Mitchells player and current Ballyholland manager Steven Poacher answered a call from Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien to become a coach and selector with the Leinster side.

Since then, Carlow have put together their best season in Division Four in over a decade and delivered a Leinster Championship win for the first time in six seasons when they beat Wexford almost a fortnight ago.

Despite those landmark achievements, Poacher insists that it could be a while before he resumes his involvement with football in his home county.

"There is a political side to the county board. I am a Down man at heart and if Down came calling you would have to consider working with your own county," he said.

"But you know what, it has been very refreshing working outside your own land. You don't have the same political element.

"I know my attributes. I know any player I have worked with in Down speaks very highly of me so I don't need some county board official or someone who has never coached or played the game to tell me how good or bad I am."

Poacher put down a decade of work with the Down development squads and trained the county Under-21 side for three years. He doesn't believe he was burned out, but does emphasise his rejuvenation with his positive experience in south Leinster.

In the wake of that thrilling 2-17 to 2-13 win over Seamus McEnaney's Wexford, manager O'Brien was generous in his praise of Poacher's influence. He said: "I just think something is clicking with our guys, that we realise we can compete if we put some structure to our game. Steven Poacher talks about it quite a bit, 'clarity of roles and role acceptance'. That's the basis of any good team, and I think we've got that now."

Poacher is full of praise for O'Brien and his passion for Carlow, which has extended to him writing a book. 'Cycling in south Leinster' is based on his love of the area and of whiling away the hours on two wheels.

"We had an instant relationship from the point of view that you can talk to him on a social level," Poacher said, as well as name checking other members of the backroom - Benji O'Brien, Tommy Wogan and Damian Sheehan.

"There have been debates and discussions about team selections but the beauty of it is that Turlough is very open-minded and is willing to take everyone's views on board."

Of the exhilaration that greeted that win, he added: "I am not a Carlow man. I have no family or friends there so I can take a step back and look at it from the outside, to see what it meant for the people of Carlow and it was fantastic to see such joy and devotion."

He credits his wife as a key factor in his ability to combine his county commitments with his club role as Ballyholland manager in the Down leagues, as she shoulders the vast majority of the childminding.

"Marie is very understanding. She comes from a football family, her father (Aidan McMahon) played with Tyrone for 10 years," Poacher stated.

"Marie knows how important GAA is in the family. She is very understanding in that respect.

"It is as much about managing your time. The journey from Newry to Carlow is great to be honest because you can get your thoughts together on the road, take a few calls, catch up on a few things."

Turning his attention to facing Dublin, he notes Mickey Harte's recent observation that the Dubs can play as defensively as anyone, chuckling at the idea that Carlow have been tinkering with the idea of a blanket defence given they scored 2-17 the last day out.

"The difference between Dublin and other teams is that Dublin's defensive system does not look as rigid because they break with so much pace and flair," he said. "Pace is the big thing. It's not just one or two. The big thing with trying to stop Dublin is that it is coming from everywhere and even more so, comes from the bench when the game is stretched, which is a massive challenge.

"But it's a fantastic experience for the Carlow lads."

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