Wednesday 11 December 2019

Gannon pride in 'rising' as Éire Óg chase glory

Éire Óg and Carlow footballer Sean Gannon. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Éire Óg and Carlow footballer Sean Gannon. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Sean Gannon has a simple question by way of retort to any criticism of Carlow's style of football over the past two years.

"Have you ever lost seven games in the league and then gone out and been beat twice in the championship playing lovely, open expansive football?" he asks, not unreasonably.

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"I'll tell you what was nice," Gannon adds, expanding his point, "being the first team to be promoted out of Division 4 (in 2018).

"Taking a couple of scalps like Kildare, Louth and Wexford.

"Winning was a hell of a better than what was happening before, trust me."

Central to that seismic improvement was Steven Poacher, who confirmed he would be leaving Turlough O'Brien's Carlow management team last month.

And despite common perception, Gannon says the Down native's coaching focused predominantly on the attacking side of the game in his three years with Carlow.

"Fair enough, he got the defensive structure right and when he came we had the second worst defensive record in Ireland so he steadied that up and it had to be done," he explains.

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"I remember for years the Carlow players themselves expected to lose but that's not the case now. We're prouder, we have belief and he has instilled that."

Even the criticism itself, Gannon says, was more welcome than the general public disinterest of Carlow football during the first decade of his inter-county career.

That Oscar Wilde line about the only thing in life worse than being talked about is not being talked about rings true, he admits now having had it both ways.

"For years and years we had Kilkenny and Dublin jerseys around town," Gannon explains, "but now every kid is wearing a Carlow jersey. A huge amount of that came from the publicity that we received."

Which is why twin relegations for the county's senior teams this year were so damaging, stalling the momentum of the self-styled 'Carlow Rising' movement.

The county footballers will compete in Division 4 again next year and barring an appearance in the Leinster final, will resort to the newly coined 'B' Championship thereafter.

As Gannon admits: "Probably the best days in my Carlow career weren't overly successful but bringing 8,000 or 9,000 people into Netwatch Cullen Park to play Tyrone and Monaghan," events unlikely to be repeated in the short term.

The hurlers, meanwhile, finished bottom of the Leinster Championship round robin group and were thus consigned to the wholly less glamorous environs of the Joe McDonagh Cup for 2020.

For all that, Gannon says he isn't as staunchly against a split All-Ireland as his county manager and clubmate O'Brien.

On Sunday week, he'll try and win a Leinster title with Éire Óg. After that, he'll take whatever else is going.

"This could be my 12th year with Carlow and there's not an awful of honours behind my name," he says, "so I'd take hand and all if you gave me an All-Ireland 'B' (title)."

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