The Mourne County coach behind Carlow’s incredible scoring efficiency

One of the most impressive statistics in the Championship season and one that is unlikely to be repeated, was the fact that Carlow did not record a single wide in their Leinster quarter-final win over Kildare, their first over the Lilywhites since 1953.

It speaks of the outstanding coaching job performed by Steven Poacher, Carlow’s coaching import from Down, who only last week the 2010 All-Star Marty Clarke was hailing as one of the best coaches he has ever worked with, urging Down to recruit him as soon as they could.

And yet, from Poacher’s viewpoint, the move that finished the game with a late goal by corner-back Conor Lawlor was for him the highlight of the game.

“The man who set Conor Lawlor up for the goal was John Murphy who plays as a full-back at times,” explains Poacher.

John had found himself up the field, on the ‘45’ and his fellow defender coming steaming off his shoulder to take the ball and finish like a top forward. That comes back to training. When I saw the overload happening, Sean Murphy created the overload, it was a 2 v 1 situation and I thought, ‘here we go, we do this every night of the week, so this should be walked into the net.’

Poacher came in for criticism earlier this year for what was described as an overly-defensive approach, from who he terms, “people who have never coached a team in their life”.

He adds: “One of the things about our training sessions is every drill finishes with a score. Even if it is a tackling exercise, it ends in a score, if it is a kick-passing exercise, it ends in a score.

90% of our sessions are geared around offensive play. Head up, look forward. Always encourage players to play with a bit of freedom as well. When we win the ball, everybody becomes an attacker, when we lose the ball, everybody becomes a defender.

“People talk about this word ‘transition’ as if it is a new thing. It means to move from one place to another — move from defence to attack. It exists in every single invasion game in the world.”

While he has been gaining a lot of the credit for Carlow’s improvement, he insists he has never before worked in a management team as united as Carlow’s, with manager Turlough O’Brien being a completely ego-free zone.

“When Turlough asked me to come down a few years ago, he and Tommy Wogan travelled to a couple of my coaching days (Poacher hosted regular coaching sessions as a fundraiser for his former school, St Columban’s in Kilkeel, Co Down), that’s how the relationship started.”

O’Brien asked him in to do a guest session prior to the 2016 Leinster Championship, and he travelled down with wife Marie and their two daughters.

“Tommy and Turlough came round on the Saturday, we had a glass of wine and a chat about things,” he recalls.

“I could just see instantly he was a nice guy to get along with, he was interesting. A great character and personality, no airs or graces. He is not in this game for publicity, a real Carlow man to the core.

“He loves everything about Carlow, loves cycling around the county, is passionate about the county in more ways than just football.”

Carlow are going their own way as they break records. Last year they won three Championship games for the first time since 1944, when they won their only Leinster title, while they had only nine Championship wins across the last 20 years.

Last week, no fewer than 11 players were in the middle of exam season, so O’Brien gave them the week off training. By contrast, the leaks coming out of the Kildare camp had them holed up in a three-day camp that was heavy on theory.

“We are looking to get the most out of our players,” adds Poacher.

“They come to training with a smile on their face and they leave with a smile on their face. We have a very open camp. Myself and Turlough are very relaxed about the use of social media, we are relaxed about the boys going for a few beers.”

Now, they are in a Leinster semi-final against Laois with a chance to avenge a bad-tempered Division 4 league final defeat to their neighbours.

Poacher adds, “I think without belief you have nothing. Without going too religious, I admire people of great faith, that have a belief in something. It is remarkable because it gives people hope and I think sport is just the same. If you have belief, you have something. If you have no belief, then you have nothing.”


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