Monday 23 September 2019

Clarke: The sooner Poacher gets Down role the better

Marty Clarke believes standards have slipped in Down as they head into the start of their Ulster SFC campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Marty Clarke believes standards have slipped in Down as they head into the start of their Ulster SFC campaign. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Few can claim to have envisaged the Carlow rising, but it hasn't shocked Marty Clarke and the former Down football star hopes one of the men at the heart of the Barrowsiders' climb can have a similar impact in his native county.

Steven Poacher has played a pivotal role in helping Turlough O'Brien's men upset the odds to become one of the stories of 2017 while promotion to Division 3 and another Leinster SFC scalp are already secured this year.

Carlow's eyes are set on taking out Kildare this Sunday amid a wave of optimism and Clarke relishes the thought of Poacher possibly working wonders with Down, currently managed by Eamonn Burns, some day.

"I'm not surprised at all. I would lean on Steven for a lot of advice, he's a very sort of high-energy guy. Eccentric, but so knowledgeable about his football, he's invested in it, he kind of loves an underdog," former All-Star Clarke said.

"I don't think he would fit well going into a Dublin or a top team. He's given Carlow so much belief, given them a way of playing. He's got a good bunch of players and he's brought the best out of them.


"He coached me himself, he's a motivator, he's innovative with his training. Someone like Steven Poacher, if he ever did get a chance to go to Down, you would see a similar response."

Poacher, a physical education teacher in St Columban's Kilkeel in Down, is mixing his Carlow duties with managing Mourne club Ballyholland and former AFL star Clarke has no hesitation in saying "he's the best coach I've ever been trained under".

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Paddy Tally - who has had a massive influence since being drafted in to Kevin Walsh's Galway set-up this year - is the only coach that comes close in Clarke's view and he believes it's a "shame" that former Down U-21 boss Poacher is not involved with the county.

Clarke describes a coach who is "constantly changing" and he's confident that his services will be snapped up by a top Ulster club or county, he just hopes Down don't miss the boat and sees it as a no-brainer for him to be involved with the senior side.

"The sooner he gets in to Down the sooner I think Down will consistently... you know, Down won games last year, which was brilliant, but they couldn't go out and repeat it against Monaghan, because it was more about the who did it rather than the how they did it," he says.

"We know how good Dublin are because the system they play, how everyone is tuned into it. They're winning games in the league with ten guys out because they're playing this way, it doesn't matter who is in there.

"Poacher could bring that if he had a real shrewd manager in with him. Maybe the likes of Benny Coulter in the backroom team. That's what I'd like to see and that's no disrespect to the current management team, we're just talking future."

At just 30, the brilliant playmaker Clarke should still be leading the Down attack but having been diagnosed with Addison's Disease - a rare disorder which results in the adrenal glands not producing enough steroid hormones - he was forced to hang up his inter-county boots.

With no playing involvement with his club An Riocht this year, his attention has turned to coaching with his brother's club St John's as well as the Cavan U-20s and the "dream would be to win the All-Ireland with Down in any capacity".

Ambitions to possibly make a Down return were quickly put into reality when watching former Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan in Mayo's 2016 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final victory over Tyrone.

"I watched Lee Keegan. I was just home from Australia. I had planned on playing the following season and I remember thinking to myself, 'My goodness, am I ever going to be… if he was marking me today, I would just be blown away totally'," he said.

As for Down's hopes this summer, starting with Antrim in the Ulster SFC quarter-final on Saturday, Clarke is cautious.

"People will say Down had an unbelievable year last year - they had two wins. They were against good opposition in Armagh and a very good team in Monaghan, but two wins! In Down, it shouldn't get you too excited the way it did so it shows how far we've dropped down and how far we have to go again."

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