Sport Gaelic Football

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Evans the perfect man to get very best out of Rossies' rising stars

John Evans
John Evans
Eoin Liston

Eoin Liston

The performances of two men will be the focus of my attention this weekend. Two wily old characters who have seen it all in the game. I'm talking about my fellow Kerry man and Roscommon boss John Evans and Tyrone's mastermind, Mickey Harte.

I met John during the week and his appetite for the game hasn't diminished in the slightest. I know first hand of his expertise on the sideline. I was in charge of Shannon Rangers when we came up against his Laune Rangers in the Kerry SFC in the summer of 1995. They beat us by a point and went on to win the club All-Ireland against Carlow's Eire Óg the following March.

He had a great team at his disposal, which included the Hassett brothers, Timmy Fleming, Ger Murphy and Billy O'Shea, with a teenage Mike Frank Russell on the bench. John was able to get the absolute best out of the group.

He is a strict disciplinarian – make no mistake, if you aren't doing the work, you won't fare well under John.

It hasn't all been plain sailing for him, but coming from the school of hard knocks is no bad thing. It helps you learn. As Kerry U-21 boss, they suffered a shock defeat to Waterford in the Munster championship. As one can imagine, the investigation into that one was long and unforgiving.


In Tipperary, he brought them from Division 4 up to the second tier. His influence as director of football was heralded when the county achieved Munster and All-Ireland minor success in 2011 and he was the brains behind the Munster U-21 title in 2010.

But when he returned to the senior hot-seat, he stepped aside only months into his tenure after some poor results in the league. I'm not privy to the politics of the situation, but when a manager is as intense as John, sometimes players are quick to rebel if success isn't instant and the bigger picture becomes lost.

He would have been hurt that he didn't leave on a more positive note. He possibly felt that he had done all he could.

What I am sure about is that he's the perfect man for Roscommon.

They have been building nicely over the past number of years and they are now seeing the fruits of the recent successes at minor and U-21 level. John has a proven track record for harnessing young talent.

His goal at the start of the season would have been to get out of Division 3. That has been achieved.

I was impressed with league final victory over Cavan, another team on an upward curve.

Roscommon struggled in the opening quarter, but the fighting qualities John instils came to the fore and they ran out deserving winners. It will be fascinating to see how they go over the summer and I fully expect them to have too much for Leitrim.

In Ulster, Mickey Harte's rebuild reaches its next stage. He has been an open critic of the new black-card rule, and the cynics would say it's no surprise, given Tyrone's reputation for dabbling in the dark arts. But, the fact is, they received fewer black cards in the league than Kerry.

However, I fully expect Tyrone to be as ferocious as ever. The black card should not mean the championship turns into something akin to 'Strictly Come Dancing'. There is no reason why fellas can't still be aggressive and play hard, high-octane football. If teams weren't still going to go to the limits, what would be the point? It would be all froth and no porter.

Mickey has clearly tried to adjust his team's style during the league. The attack has looked more menacing and they've put up some big scores. It's at the other end where they look vulnerable. I saw them in Killarney when Kerry ripped them apart and James O'Donoghue hit a hat-trick.

I feel there is too much made of the system he plays or has played in the past. When Tyrone were at their pomp, they had some of the best footballers in the country. Of course tactics were important, but it's the players who implemented them.

The question mark surrounding them now is whether they have the quality required to win an All-Ireland.

If they were to lose Sean Cavanagh, for example, I would find it hard to see them challenging the likes of Dublin, Mayo or Cork.

Perhaps there are players there who can make the step up and that Darren McCurry, Kyle Coney, Ronan O'Neill, Niall Morgan and others will prove me wrong. Where better to start than in front of their own crowd in Omagh tomorrow?

Irish Independent

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