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Anthony Rainbow: Finding the time to succeed in Carlow

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Carlow manager Anthony Rainbow recently spoke to about how he is getting used to life as an inter-county boss.

A lot of people seem to forget that not only players, but coaches and selectors have a day job on top of everything else.
Anthony Rainbow

At the start of every month, Anthony Rainbow divides his time into little blocks on a big chart.

The recently appointed Carlow manager has to, because otherwise he says, "you'd be just chasing your tail really and going around in circles."

It's a routine he expects most inter-county managers and players have to do in order to function properly, and to adequately balance the demanding priorities of a career in inter-county GAA, a full-time job and a family.

"It is hard going, you do have to structure not only your day but your week and your month quite well in advance. You'd like to think you have your whole layout done for each month at the start of the month, give it to the players and work around that."

His schedule makes interesting reading for people who may not be fully aware of how much time is now required to be involved with a senior inter-county team.

"A lot of people seem to forget that not only players, but coaches and selectors have a day job on top of everything else," he says. "You're looking at some coaches (who) could be travelling maybe an hour, an hour and a half to training if they're outside of the county.

"I'm lucky enough, I only travel half an hour there and a half an hour back so it's an hour round trip and it's not too bad. You see John Meyler, the Carlow hurling manager, he's coming from Cork, that's probably a three hour round trip every night. And then John has to get up for work in the morning. Glenn Ryan is doing the same thing, going from Kildare to Longford."

Add in that his job, as a business development executive with a pharmaceuticals company, requires him to drive around 1000 kilometres per week, and that he has a wife and two young children, it is easy to see why a time chart is required when you already have three or four nights training a team and a match at the weekend.

Then again, if anyone is used to such a demanding juggling act of time, it's Rainbow. From 1990 to 2010, he was a Kildare senior footballer, and was a regular for the vast majority of that 20-year period.

When he finally retired from inter-county action, it says plenty about his thirst for the game that he opted to go straight back in at inter-county level, working as Kieran McGeeney's stats man for the Lilywhites in the 2011 season.

The following year, he was asked by then Carlow boss Luke Dempsey to work alongside him as a coach and a selector, and Rainbow saw the move as a natural progression on the road to management, which he had already identified as one he wanted to be on.

It gives him the rare distinction of being involved in inter-county GAA for 23 successive years now. He explains his devotion as follows.

"The fact that I love GAA and Gaelic Football. And I have loved it all my life. I played for 20 years, I loved playing with my club and I'd hope to play a small bit for my club this year if I get the time. That's the GAA for you.

Anthony Rainbow


Age: 41
Kildare debut: 1990
Championship debut: 1992
Honours: 2 Leinster titles
1 All Star
Kildare career: 1992-2010

"It's rooted in you since you were a child and it stays with you for life. When I finish coaching, when I finish managing, I'll be going to games to watch them."

Luke Dempsey stepped down as Carlow boss after they exited the 2012 championship with a defeat to Laois last June. In September, Rainbow was named as his successor. Suddenly, after 20 years as a player, and just two working in the coaching background, he was a senior inter-county manager.

"When you come to the end of career, you know you're coming to the end of your career and you want to prepare for something else really," he says.

"I always had an interest in either going in as a coach or a manager or as a selector with an intercounty team. I always liked that side of it. I did a bit with my own club in Suncroft as well for a year or two. So I got a bit of a grá for it or a bit of an interest in it after doing it."

Carlow finished seventh out of nine teams last year in Division IV of the Allianz League. Out of 33 teams in the league pyramid in Ireland, Carlow were ranked 31st. But as their new manager explains, that particular statistic doesn't tell the full story.

"We beat London, Kilkenny and Waterford. But if you look at the remaining matches, Wicklow beat us by a point, that could have went either way.

"Clare were the same, they beat us by a point as well. Leitrim beat us by a point and in those three particular games, the game was in the balance until the last five minutes. If we had won those three games, we could have been promoted so there's a very fine line between having a good season and having a bad season in Division IV."

The fact that Carlow went on to draw with Meath in the championship suggests Rainbow has a point. The Royals comfortably beat them in the replay, but Carlow then put up a good fight against a strong Laois team in the Qualifiers, going down by four points in the end.

So now that Rainbow is in the top job in the county, what are his ambitions and what does he feel he can realistically achieve with Carlow? His own background informs him in that regard, and he considers what made him successful as a player, and what he learned at his own club, as central to his outlook in the game.

"I suppose consistency would be the word. If you're training consistently well, playing consistently well and playing at a level at which you are being competitive at, you can't ask for anything more really.

"Once you put the commitment in and the hard work in, because you won't achieve anything in life without hard work and commitment. That's in work, that's in family, I suppose it's everything really."

He also sees parallels in his challenge at Carlow, and those he experienced throughout his club career.

"If you look at my own situation...I come from a small club in Suncroft, where we would only have probably 20 players at most, whether it was league or championship, and we would work with those 20 players for the whole season. Probably something similar to what Carlow are, and you're always struggling against the big teams," he says.

"But we've had a bit of success in our club. We've won two Intermediate championships, we've been to two senior semi-finals, we've never won one but we've been competitive and I'd like to think that I could bring some of that with me to Carlow. You know, coming from a small club going to a small county and maybe getting a bit of success with them.

"And putting a basis there for the future for them, that, if they get a bit of success that it breeds success down the county. Then the young lads can look up to the likes of Brendan Murphy down in Carlow, Daniel St. Ledger, Ray Walker. Then, those kids could be inspired by these lads and maybe would want to play with Carlow in the future and maybe want to win something in the future. And it's all about success. If you get a bit of success, it breeds success within the county."

In that trio of players he mentions – Murphy, St. Ledger and Walker – Anthony Rainbow sees a nucleus of players around which he can build a successful team, with former AFL player Murphy as the obvious focal point.

“He probably has been the main man since he came back from Australia,” says his manager. “He has that professionalism still since he came back from Australia that he sort of inherited out there. But no team is built around one man. We've some other good footballers there. We brought in Ray Walker this year who I think is probably one of the best footballers down in Carlow.

“He's as good as Brendan if not better. And those two lads along with the likes of Darragh Foley, who’s only out of the U21 ranks last year. A lot of players would feed off these guys, and when they feed off them, they follow them. These are players that are leading by example and when they lead by example, other players will follow them. And it's important to have players like that within your set-up.”

If Rainbow is targeting promotion from Division IV this year with Carlow – he says the squad are only just now beginning to set their goals for the year – he has an obvious example of a county and a manager to look up to.

His former Kildare teammate and good friend Glenn Ryan has taken Longford up from Division IV to Division II in the last two seasons, and Rainbow has serious admiration for what his friend has achieved. However, he also points out that Ryan’s success was built up over time, and came about after two solid years of hard work, of laying the foundations.

“That success wasn't overnight for Glenn. For the first two years he was down in Longford, he had two hard years. He worked with them very closely and he got a lot of work done within that two years. It was only in the third year that he really made the breakthrough. He got them out of Division IV, he then got out of Division III, he's in Division II this year. He's had a bit of success.”

Rainbow admits that a big part of his challenge in Carlow is to encourage the development of what he terms “a more professional base”, something like what he experienced in Kildare under Kieran McGeeney’s management.

“Kildare have done it so professionally over the last five or six years. Those lads could be training seven days a week, some days they could be training twice a day. And going into a situation in Carlow where they are Division IV, you sort of have to change the mindset in a way.”

However, he clearly has a lot of faith in Carlow, and specifically in the quartet of players he identified as potential leaders in the group, Murphy, St. Ledger, Foley and Walker. As well as that group of players, Rainbow sees five or six clubs in the Carlow championship as key in providing players for the county team – namely Éire Óg, Palatine, O'Hanrahan's, Tinryland, Rathvilly and Old Leighlin. He feels if they can all provide a certain quota of players, Carlow will always have a chance.

This is all the start of a process for Rainbow and Carlow. This season, Division IV of the Allianz League has quite a few strong teams in it, such as Limerick, Offaly and Tipperary, not to mention Clare under Rainbow’s old manager Mick O’Dwyer, and Rainbow expects the division to be very competitive. After that, Carlow face Westmeath in the first round of the Leinster Championship, a long way away in January, but something for which the preparations have already started.

As his new life as an inter-county manager kicks into full gear, one wonders if Anthony Rainbow ever gets a chance to get away from it all, to relax and read a book, catch up with the soaps or just sit a while and watch the world go by?

“Not really,” he says, when you know he probably means ‘definitely not.’ “I would get home from training, depending on how long the training session went on, if we had a meeting afterwards, you might not get home until 10.30 or 11 that evening. You might sit down and have a cup of tea with your wife for half an hour before you go to bed.

“Then you're up again at 6.30 or 7 the following morning. Get the kids ready for creche, then out the door for work. And you could have another training session that evening then on top of that.”

He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t love it.

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