Niall Carew excited about Carlow's potential
By Cian O’Connell
“It has just been mad - that is the only word,” Niall Carew says about being back in inter-county management during a pandemic.
Previously a selector with Kildare, Carew then took charge of Waterford and Sligo enjoying his stint at the highest level.
Last summer when the totemic Turlough O’Brien opted to leave the stage, Carew became interested in building on the solid foundation established.
Undoubtedly 2020 was a year like no other with Carew in the rare position of inheriting a coaching job during a fractured campaign.
“It was just a big rollercoaster,” Carew admits. “With all of that happening my poor old ma died in between.
“So it was bittersweet going back at it. I suppose it took my mind off the grief and all of that with my mum. I was able to throw myself right into it which was good.
“The Carlow County Board were very helpful, I met with Turlough O'Brien, who was very helpful too. We just started getting into trial matches, that is what we did.
“The Carlow Championship hadn't finished so we were still without a lot of players. We really only had four weeks then to prepare for the Championship.
“It was tough, but it was good too. We tried to get as much done as we could in terms of a structure of play and trying to get lads to buy into that because they were playing a different system to what we had introduced with the new coaching staff obviously.
“We were really cramming stuff in with the Sligo and Offaly games. It was mad.”
Ultimately it is Carlow’s potential which caught Carew’s attention: missions can be accomplished. “Absolutely, even in the lockdown our lads are buying into everything,” Carew remarks. “We are keeping the panel tight.
“There is massive potential in this group. If you go through a lot of the players Jordan Morrissey, Ross Dunphy, and then the older players Sean Gannon, Darragh Foley, Eoghan Ruth, and Shane Redmond.
“These lads are really buying into everything that is being put in front of them. We feel there is massive potential in this group and we really want to drive it on going forward.
“Their appetite and everything we put in front of them, they are eating it up. They are good lads and we just can't wait to get back into collective training, to start coaching again.”
That is an aspect of the job Carew enjoys, trying to improve players. An interesting backroom team was stitched together by Carew including the decorated Ger Brennan, who offers significant experience.
“Ger Brennan is my coach along with Victor Doyle from Rathvilly and Simon Rea from Eire Og,” Carew comments.
“Three excellent coaches with me. On the strength and conditioning Ciaran Nolan is excellent too. We are very thrilled with the backroom and the physio Gary Nolan.
“They are good lads and Carlow men. We have a new Chairman coming on board too, Jim Bolger, is after taking over from Sean Campion.
“Sean was a lovely lad, he wanted to drive the whole thing on and I met with Jim Bolger for a couple of hours just before Christmas, social distancing obviously. We met and that went very well, he is very keen to drive the whole thing on.”
It is one of the reasons that Carew remains confident about the future of this Carlow outfit. “Every manager is only as good as his backroom team and the players at his disposal,” Carew continues.
“The big thing is everyone is on the same page, that there is nobody trying to deviate from the plan, everyone has the same philosophy in thinking what way the game should be played.
“That is why Ger and myself get on very well. We have known each other for a long time now anyway. Then very lucky that we have Victor and Simon on the same wavelength as ourselves.”
Carew is encouraged about the connection forged off the field too, a real desire exists for Carlow to stay relevant and competitive.
“For a small county population wise and even the pool of players we have to pick from, you only have eight senior clubs in Carlow,” Carew states.
“It is a small pool of players, but there certainly is a good passion amongst the football contingent down there, who really want the county team to develop and to go well.
“It is an exciting time when you know that they really want them team to progress. They are doing everything they can to make sure that happens.”
Becoming involved once more at inter-county was a challenge Carew embraced. “There was an interest about whether I would talk and I said I'd meet them anyway,” Carew replies.
“That was it and it kinda snowballed from there. The three lads I met were very enthusiastic about driving the whole thing forward, Sean Campion was one of them. The committee were very keen and that is what floated my boat. I suppose I really wanted it then after that.”
Suddenly Carew sensed the possibilities. “I spoke to Ger Brennan, who was very interested in coming on board, and it snowballed from there,” Carew adds. “It is like you never have left inter-county management then because it is all or nothing at inter-county level, 24-7.
“Everyday you are doing something in relation to your team, trying to keep on top of everything, and making sure everything is done right. Every inter-county manager will tell you that, every single day, whether it is on the phone or meetings, everday you are doing something.
“It is certainly a big undertaking again, but it is something I'm relishing. I've great appetite because it was three years since I was involved in it. I finished up with Sligo in 2017, at the moment we are itching to get back on to the field. We are doing other things online, that is all good.”
O’Brien’s ambition and drive will be fondly remembered in the Carlow football story. Carew forged a relationship with O’Brien. “I met Turlough when I managed Waterford a few times,” Carew comments.
“I found him to be a gentleman, he only wants Carlow to do well. Obviously he has a vested interest with his son, Darragh, playing too on the team, an excellent footballer with such a good attitude.
“I met Turlough for a couple of hours, he gave me a lot of information that I used and was very helpful. I think that transition was very important. In fairness to him he was very willing to help me, he gave me his time, and I appreciate that a lot.”
Similarly Carew tries to assist others. It has been a central part of his own coaching journey.
Ensuring Carlow are primed for action when Gaelic Football returns is Carew’s brief.