Wednesday 16 October 2019

'It would have been a sad way to finish' - Steven Poacher has 2020 Carlow vision

Steven Poacher said it would have left a ‘bad taste’ to end his time with Carlow after last season, when he was hit with a hefty suspension for his behaviour towards a referee sportsfile. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Steven Poacher said it would have left a ‘bad taste’ to end his time with Carlow after last season, when he was hit with a hefty suspension for his behaviour towards a referee sportsfile. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Having enjoyed a rollercoaster ride with Carlow since joining forces with Turlough O'Brien three years ago, a "bad taste" would have lingered in Steven Poacher's mouth had he walked away from the Barrowsiders.

The Down native made a few trips south during the summer to gauge the players' mood for 2020 and it left him in no doubt that another year on the road was needed having already enjoyed magical moments together.

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Promotion from Division 3 in 2017 was followed by an heroic effort against Dublin, a game which was broadcast live and brought Carlow to national attention, while incredible scenes accompanied their championship defeat of Kildare a year later.

Their graph had risen sharply since Poacher's arrival as coach but it nosedived in similar fashion. Division 3 league status looked like being retained as they led Down deep into injury-time of their March meeting in Carlow only for their season to unravel in the closing stanza.

Two late points from his home county - long after James Bermingham's three allotted minutes of additional time had been played - sunk Carlow's hopes when a draw would have ensured survival. The drama was only getting started, however.

Poacher and O'Brien - as well as long-serving midfielder Brendan Murphy - were hit with hefty suspensions for "threatening conduct" towards the referee with the 40-year-old adamant that "the crime didn't fit the punishment".

With their manager, coach and star player sitting in the stands for the championship, their summer was over before it started and it made the trio keen to right those wrongs with Poacher viewing it as "a positive learning experience".

"It would have been a bad taste to finish off like that. It would have been a sad way to finish what has probably been the best three years Carlow have had in 70 years," Poacher says.

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"I know the bottom fell out of it last year with suspensions and the whole bull**** that surrounded that but we truly had those lads believing that they could achieve anything and that is ultimately what you want.

"I see everything as a positive learning experience because I've learned a lot of tough lessons from it. I picked up my fair share of criticism. People can say it was deserved or not deserved but I know the ins and outs of what went on.

"You sacrifice a thousand miles a week for three years to go to a group and see what you perceive as an unbelievable injustice, it's difficult to stomach that. It was blown out of proportion but it did teach me a seriously strong lesson about discipline."

O'Brien has freshened up his backroom team with Darren Leonard and Simon Rea installed as selectors, while Kieran Nolan assumes strength and conditioning duties, although many are questioning whether Carlow's style of play will change.

Poacher has been the target of attacks over Carlow's brand of football, which often sees over a dozen men flood the ball when not in possession, but he insists that you have to "play a certain way to suit your needs" and he pays little heed to any negativity thrown his way.

"I'm a great fan of John Wooden, the great American basketball coach. He talked about reputation over character; reputation is what other people perceive you are, character is what you really are," Poacher says.

"If you ask any players that have worked with me they'll tell you exactly what type of coach I am and how I try to mould a team. You have to work with what you have and play a certain way to suit your needs.

"The better teams will have a number of different ways to play, but you have to remember who you are working with and what you're coming from. Sometimes it's a few mavericks out there looking to make some noise and grab a headline. Those boys go over my head because you have to cut your cloth to suit at senior level."

Working as a PE teacher in St Joseph's Newry, it's hardly any wonder that coaching engrosses his mind and he has carried out over 40 workshops in the past year across 18 different counties and three provinces.

Having noticed that there is generally a "cover your homework policy in the GAA" where few are willing to share ideas, Poacher has also assembled one of the most informative coaching workshops for those thirsty for knowledge and information.

It is also the story of where he first met O'Brien as the Carlow boss popped 200km up the road along with former selector Tommy Wogan to open their minds even further to coaching and that trip has spawned a fruitful relationship.

Despite having basic resources like GPS unavailable to them in Carlow due to financial restrictions, they have prospered against the odds.

"I remember talking to a high-profile figure in another county and the figure they were pulling in from fundraising was astronomical. Last year I spent a bit of time before training going to businesses," he says.

"I personally pulled a few quid in asking them to contribute to a training fund. I don't think Jason Sherlock is running around Dublin asking people for money. That's where we're at and people have got to realise that.

"Every county has different aspirations, everybody's different but some counties that have the resources and the power, they should be ashamed of themselves. The likes of Kildare, what's going on there?

"It absolutely amazes me. The easy thing is to moan and groan but go and do something about it."


Bernard Jackman and Colm Nally are among the cast for this year's Innovative Coaching Clinic in St Joseph's Newry on November 16 with tickets (€15) available through

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