GAA Football

Tyrone better be ready for a bear pit: Poacher

Carlow are enjoying an unprecedented level of competitiveness as they prepare to face Tyrone on Saturday. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile.
Andy Watters

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TYRONE will have to hold their nerve in the bear pit atmosphere at Dr Cullen Park on Saturday evening, says Carlow assistant-manager Stephen Poacher.

The Ballyholland native predicts that the David versus Goliath round two Qualifier - the first ever meeting of the counties - between Mickey Harte's Red Hands and his adopted county will be “an occasion to be savoured”.

“Dr Cullen Park will be busting at the seams, there'll be a great atmosphere,” said Poacher.

“The crowd created a great atmosphere against Monaghan last year and playing Tyrone is a great challenge for the lads. Carlow fans are ferocious at times and very fanatical and we're hoping that will be the case again on Saturday because we'll need every advantage we can get. It'll be an occasion to be savoured.”

There are divided loyalties in the Poacher household for this game. Poacher's father-in-law, Aidan McMahon, was an Ulster Championship winner with Tyrone back in 1973 and his wife Marie is a staunch supporter of the Red Hands.

“Marie will be locked upstairs this week, there'll be no communication between me and her,” joked the former Down U21 manager who is well aware that Carlow, managed by Turlough O'Brien, are massive underdogs.

“Tyrone are one of the top four sides in the country and it's exciting for our lads,” he said.

“Nobody will be giving us a shot or a chance but we'll approach the game like we have approached all our games this year – we'll look at them and we'll look at us and set ourselves up the best way we can to try and win the game.

“These are fantastic days for Carlow.

“We've beaten a division one team in Kildare which was vitally important for the psychology of the group. It showed them we could beat someone of a higher standard in a really competitive Championship game and we've beaten Louth who were a Division Two team but this is a different challenge altogether.

“This, for me, will show us where we are now in comparison to where we where 12 months when we played Dublin and competed very well.

“Can we go now against Tyrone and replicate the same intensity and the same workrate and organisation as we did against Monaghan?

“The big thing is experience; this is about building experience in a group of players who are growing all the time in belief and confidence.”

Poacher admits that Carlow's Leinster Championship semi-final loss to Laois was a “huge disappointment”. Mickey Harte would admit the same after his side lost their Ulster crown in an entertaining quarter-final against Monaghan.

“I have enormous respect for Mickey for what he has achieved with Tyrone,” he said.

“He has evolved and his teams have evolved four or five times under his stewardship which is not easy to do. He has seen the game change from 2003, when he won his first All-Ireland, and 15 years later the game has moved on and he has moved on with it. You have to have serious respect for that.

“Tyrone are a fabulous team, they play a lovely brand of counter-attacking football with some superb athletes and brilliant ball-carriers like Tiarnan McCann and Mattie Donnelly.

“Up front (Connor) McAliskey was on fire against Meath – they have some serious talent up front. We know it's going to be a massive challenge and we need everything to go our way on the night.”

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