Hurling & Camogie

'Paul Braniff broke our hearts that day…': New Down coach Trevor Fletcher happy to hook up with Ardsmen

Trevor Fletcher, who led Shinrone to the 2022 Offaly championship, has joined the Down backroom team. Picture by Sportsfile
Trevor Fletcher, who led Shinrone to the 2022 Offaly championship, has joined the Down backroom team. Picture by Sportsfile Trevor Fletcher, who led Shinrone to the 2022 Offaly championship, has joined the Down backroom team. Picture by Sportsfile

TREVOR Fletcher didn’t have to scratch the surface too hard for Down hurling connections when Ronan Sheehan sounded him out about hooking up in the year ahead.

“Gaelic Park New York, probably 20-odd years ago now,” he says, “Paul Braniff broke our hearts that day…”

Fletcher’s maths aren’t too far off. It was the summer of 2004, when the Exiles’ inclusion in the Ulster Championship offered a potential trip of a lifetime and - barring any major mishaps - progress into a provincial decider.

However, two years later Derry learned the hard way about the potential banana skin awaiting Stateside, the Oak Leafs on the wrong end of a shock six-point rumbling in the Bronx.

And at times New York gave Down their fill of it too, the Ardsmen eventually recovering from a slow start to take control – Portaferry maestro Braniff bagging nine points in a man-of-the-match performance.

A contemporary of six-time Allstar Eoin Kelly - the pair combining for a Munster minor success in 1997 - Fletcher was once among the most exciting prospects in Tipperary, speed and scores making up for his lack of size.

But life took him in a different direction, Fletcher and friend Mickey Maher determined to see a bit of the world, leading to a four year stint in the Big Apple where he met wife Gemma and made memories among folk from all over.

There was hurling too, of course, that day against Down one of several when the Roscrea native pulled on the New York jersey went to war.

Upon their return to Ireland, Fletcher relocated to Gemma’s homeplace of Kilcormac in Offaly, around 35 miles the other side of the county border, and was soon wearing the green and gold of Kilcormac-Killoughey – bagging 1-1 in the 2013 All-Ireland club final as the Faithful men fell to Galway heavyweights St Thomas’s.

It was coaching, though, that proved his true calling.

“Even when I was playing I was coaching,” he says.

“I have a 19-year-old daughter so I was coaching her camogie team all the way along. I have two sons, 13 and 15, I help out there as much as possible too. I enjoy it, teaching what I know.

“I got involved with Kilcormac’s U16s and minors, I always enjoyed it and then an opportunity came to take a senior team in Tipperary, Jason Forde’s team, Silvermines, and it spiralled from there…”

A spell with Belmont was followed by an unforgettable three years at Shinrone, during which he led the club to a first Offaly senior championship in 2022 at the expense of, you guessed it, Kilcormac-Killoughey.

They got back to the decider 12 months later too, but this time revenge was served cold.

“I had a great time there.

“Shinrone always had the potential, they just couldn’t win on the big day. Previous to me joining they had lost nine knockout matches in-a-row, often after having great league parts of the championship.

“Last year was big hurdle for them, and they got huge momentum and belief from what we were trying to instill in them.

“For a team to win their first ever county final, it brought the parish together, the players, ex-players… it was just such a joyous time.

“And although we didn’t win this year, Kilcormac were by far the better team on the day, it was just as significant as last year because you’re going in as champions. You have a target on your back no matter team you play, so to get back to the final was a big achievement.”

After that, though, Fletcher was ready for another challenge.

The lure of the inter-county scene had always been there and, when fellow Tipp man Ryan O’Dwyer got in touch about Down, he was all ears.

O’Dwyer was part of Sheehan’s backroom team in 2022, when the Ardsmen made a dramatic push for promotion to the top flight of the National Hurling League, and strongly recommended Fletcher grab the opportunity.

“Ryan gave me a great insight before I made a decision on it. He said they could not do enough – anything he asked, they did it in spades, there was never an issue.

“He just felt that they did everything for the love of Down hurling. When he said that to me, I was like ‘wow’ - that’s something I love.

“I knew five minutes into chatting with Ronan he was a guy I liked and would be keen to work with, and the chance to work with a Joe McDonagh county, that’s a huge bonus.

“I love the system they play, and the excitement for me is getting to coach guys who are at the high level. I’m really excited to get going - I just wish we were started already.”