Steven Poacher has made a lot of headlines over the past two years, some of it good, some of it bad.
However, what many may not know about the Newry native is that the hours he puts into Gaelic Games is unparalleled. Poacher recently took up a post with Lismore Comprehensive. A great school by all accounts but not a traditional GAA stronghold where you may expect to find a top-class inter-county coach.
He started a GAA Academy out of the Craigavon school with the view to strengthening the number of kids participating in Gaelic Games and finding a local club for them.
“We have a three-fold approach,” Poacher told Pundit Arena.
“One is about building stronger links with local clubs. I went to the local clubs and done a coaching workshop with over 100 coaches, just giving them insights into what is effective coaching and the benefits of choosing games over drills.
“How to keep our young people involved with the GAA in areas like Lurgan, Craigavon & Portadown where there’s a huge level of social problems.
“As well as that, I am out in the primary schools delivering GAA fun-based sessions were kids get as many touches of the football as they can. A lot of these children don’t play GAA so it’s about trying to get them interested and if it’s a sport that they want to pursue and take part in then it’s about linking in with the clubs and letting them know that this youngster is out there.
“It’s about trying to integrate the whole thing together and then obviously within Lismore trying to promote and develop the game as much as possible.”
Poacher has devoted his career to developing Gaelic Games in schools across Ulster.
So it must have been a sore point for him last week when video footage emerged of an Ulster schools game that highlighted all that was wrong with Gaelic football and in turn have his name associated with the game.
The match between Abbey CBS and St. Patrick’s Maghera was described by leading pundit, Colm Parkinson, as being ‘straight out of the Steven Poacher handbook’.
“I’m not really concerned about clowns like Colm (Parkinson), to be fair he’s a sensationalist, his living is trying to get people to rise, it’s not really my cup of tea, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’m making a difference, promoting and developing the game in the right manner with every single session I take,” Poacher said.
This would make you sick, Under fucking 15’s! Anyone know who the Abbey CBS manager is? (A Poacher wannabie thinking he’s a tactician) https://t.co/A4O5UGvf5E
— Colm Parkinson (@Woolberto) March 1, 2019
“I’ve coached for 18 years at Ulster vocational schools level, I don’t think Colm would have served time in any association like that, he wouldn’t have given up his time voluntarily.
“At underage level and schools level, our youngsters are always promoted to get the head up, look forward and kick the ball forward, they are always promoted to kick-pass first, the ball is at the heart of the session, every session starts with a score and finishes with a score. They play games, they enjoy themselves and they have fun.
“The Abbey and Maghera was one school game, the Ulster post-primary school games are among the best schools football that you’ll see, the most organised, the most competitive and the majority are fantastic. Of course you are going to get one bad game, but it’s a sensationalist thing, they need situations like this to keep them relevant in life you know? Colm sort of needs a game like that to keep him relevant, he needs controversy, because without it he’s irrelevant.”
In many ways, Poacher is used to the criticism at this stage. Having come on board with the Carlow senior football team in 2017, the Down man has been part of a rising that has seen them go from the bottom of Division 4 to playing live on Sky Sports against Dublin.
However, he has come in for a huge amount of criticism along the way for their perceived negative tactics.
“It’s funny these guys who love to make comments on my sessions have never actually seen me coach. They’ve actually never seen one single session that I have done and they’re very, very quick to jump on a bandwagon,” Poacher said.
“When I took over at Carlow, they had been beaten by 28 points in the Championship by Meath and had the worst defensive record in Ireland, they were shipping 25 points a game. So, obviously the way Carlow were playing wasn’t good enough to be competitive.
“People don’t realise this and again it’s another stick for the sensationalists to beat you with. We were judged by the games we played Laois in, and those were derby games.
Goal of the weekend? Carlow go back to front in seconds. Some team move. pic.twitter.com/4anqQ5nlAD
— Niall McCoy (@McCoyNiall) March 6, 2019
“Before that we had a +35 scoring difference, we were actually the highest scoring team in the country and had the best scoring average across the four divisions last year. We hammered in 15 goals, we were playing football in the right manner. I just think at the minute we are very quick to bash the game, very quick to knock people.
“Some people think you go out and send 15 men behind the ball and it’s not that. Against Louth on Saturday night, the football we played in the first half was some of the best I’ve seen Carlow play in years, we scored a goal direct from a kick-out and a couple of points as a result of real-good, free-flowing football.”
It’s clear the high regard that Poacher holds the people of Carlow in, especially his manager, Turlough O’Brien who has had to shoulder a lot of the criticism sent their way.
For now, he will continue to keep plugging away with the Barrowsiders in the hope that he can leave Gaelic football in the county in a better place than he found it, regardless of what anyone says.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Turlough I really can’t. It would be remiss of me to not mention his personality because that can go missing in sport, it can be overlooked. Sometimes we’re very cynical and we treat players like pieces of meat and treat each other like robots, but for me, there’s a person behind the player, there’s a person behind the manager and there’s a person behind the coach,” Poacher said.
“When people are very critical on social media and in the media about coaches and players, they can get very personal, and I’ve had my fair share of personal attacks from different individuals over the past year, I don’t think they realise the work that goes in I don’t think they see the effort and time that goes in and I don’t think they realise these people have families, wives, children, who are reading this an listening to this and who see this abuse going on. There’s nearly a resentment and bitterness towards seeing people do well.
“I’ve met some wonderful people on and off the field, people who have made me, the wife and the children very, very much at home and have really looked after us every time we have come down, but when you see the progress a county can make, especially coming from bottom of Division 4 a few years ago to all of a sudden, beating Kildare in the Championship, it’s a massive turnaround.
“These couple of years in Carlow hopefully it’ll have ingrained a level of belief in the younger players that they can compete and they have a team to be really proud of.”