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Poacher excited to see Louth boss Harte take on fellow Ulstermen as manager's influence shines light on bottom tier



New challenge: Mickey Harte is embarking on a fresh chapter as he takes over the reins at Louth following his departure after more than 30 years of involvement with Tyrone

New challenge: Mickey Harte is embarking on a fresh chapter as he takes over the reins at Louth following his departure after more than 30 years of involvement with Tyrone

�INPHO/Presseye/Russell Pritcha

New challenge: Mickey Harte is embarking on a fresh chapter as he takes over the reins at Louth following his departure after more than 30 years of involvement with Tyrone

With the National Football League splitting off into northern and southern divisions for 2021, there is a distinctly Ulster flavour to Division Four.

On the starting line for the weekend of February 27-28 are some notable names.

Mickey Harte will be putting his reputation on the line when he takes charge of Louth for the first time having left Tyrone after 17 seasons in charge of the seniors, and 13 years before that in the under-age ranks. He has brought Gavin Devlin with him as team coach.

His former club and county player Enda McGinley - aided by selector Stephen O'Neill - has taken on the county of his in-laws, Antrim, and will hope to tempt his brothers-in-law Miceál and Tomás McCann along.

Tony McEntee, a player who won multiple All-Ireland titles as a player with Armagh and Crossmaglen before managing his club to back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2011 and 2012, takes charge of a county team for the first time having been given the Sligo job.

And Cavan's Terry Hyland is back as manager of Leitrim for his third season.

In previous years, Division Four would have had a whiff of anonymity about it, but with some of the biggest names in management now taking these roles, it pushes the profile through the roof.

One Ulsterman intimately familiar with the scene is Down's Steven Poacher. He spent three years with Turlough O'Brien at Carlow where he was team trainer, winning promotion to Division Three in 2018 for the first time in 33 years.


Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher

Steven Poacher

He is especially excited by Harte's appointment in Louth. Like Tyrone, they have their own dedicated base where the county footballers and hurlers train, in Darvar. But Poacher knows that Harte may find that the resources available are much reduced than what he became accustomed to in Tyrone.

"I thought of the resources we had as an average Division Four team. We must have been one of the few counties in Ireland that didn't have access to a single GPS unit," Poacher explained.

"When people talk of a shoestring budget, we literally were operating off a shoestring to the extent that I was going to local businesses in Carlow myself on my hands and knees, asking for money for the training fund.

"But Louth have a lot of things in place. They have Darvar, which is a base, an identity. They are building a new stadium which is exciting times for them.

"Out of the three projects, I see the one involving Louth as being the one with the most optimism.

"They have been in Division Two recently so there is potential there. There's something to work with and with Harte and Gavin Devlin's experience it is looking good."

Antrim are in a decent position themselves, with the Dunsilly project now well established and county teams training there throughout the summer.

However, McGinley and O'Neill are newcomers to this level of management. "The only thing I would say is it is a tough division. Enda is cutting his teeth, his managerial experience is not very extensive.

"He might find it challenging as they are a young management team and it is a tough division," said Poacher.

"What you will find, particularly the Division Four teams, you are dealing with referees coming up the ranks. You do get officialdom that can be very frustrating.

"You will find yourselves in the likes of Aughrim and Carrick-on-Shannon in the depths of February when they are bloody difficult places to play in."

As much as anything else, half the battle in Division Four is trying to alter the attitudes and mindsets of players who have spent the bulk of their careers at the base of the pyramid.

"I had this conversation with someone, reflecting on our time with Carlow, how well organised we were, how many scores we got off our rehearsed kickouts," said Poacher.

"There wasn't a game we went through without creating a score from our kickout. Maybe Carlow were exposed to that level of coaching they never had before.

"One of the key things about it is instilling a level of belief into them. That's hugely important. When you are in Division Four for so long, it becomes a stigma, a mindset. You accept it.

"Someone once said to me, 'Well, that's where we are at. You have to accept that'. You don't have to accept that! And that was something I wanted to change. Don't settle for mediocrity, you have to be ambitious, you have to have optimism - set them targets and challenge them.

"I always come back to the quote, 'Coaching is taking players out of their comfort zone, without taking them out of their depth'. And I think that was something we did with Carlow, we took them out of their comfort zone at times.

"We gave them a platform, we empowered them. I don't mean that to sound like a cliché, but through the coaching they got, it allowed them on the field to make decisions for themselves, to be able to adapt to situations."

All National League games begin on the weekend of February 27-28.

Belfast Telegraph