'We’re going to try to embrace it' - Wicklow boss John Evans won't be watching the scoreboard against the Dubs
THE first thing about this Sunday, John Evans says, is that he won’t be watching the scoreboard.
“I have no intention of it,” he tells the Herald.
“I want to see how they’re kicking and passing and combining. How they’re resisting, how they’re tackling, how they’re defending,” Evans says of his Wicklow team, the one that finished 32nd in this year’s League rankings (ie last) and who take on a team currently constructing a sturdy argument in the ‘Greatest Team of All Time’ debate in Portlaoise on Sunday (4.0).
“Supporters and pundits and the like can look at the scoreboard and analyse it. But I’m looking for a performance.”
The second thing Wicklow’s much-travelled manager wants you to know is that he foresaw all this blue and silver a while back.
“I said it several times to my fellow Kerry men,” he states.
“I told them ‘you have no idea what’s coming down the track with Dublin’ because I would have known them personally and seen them; Mannion, Kilkenny, Costello, Jack McCaffrey, Lowndes … all those boys, we’d have played against them at underage.
“I had seen them up close, I saw how dangerous they were and how dedicated they were – that’s the other side of it.”
A few years ago, Evans fell into company with a few of the Dubs in Copper Face Jacks, players who had endured the last, excruciating seasons of the famine before generating that transformative glory of 2011.
They spoke of the revelation they underwent by simply letting go of the past, of flushing out the pain of narrow misses and big, chastising defeats from their collective system.
“They told me of the huge disappointments they had,” he says.
“But they said that once they got rid of that baggage, once they kicked it out of the door, they became a really super team.”
This isn’t John Evans’s first rodeo. Not by a long shot.
He was there in Croke Park as Tipperary manager in 2010, when Pat Gilroy’s jittery, patchwork team staggered their way through a qualifier after that landmark hiding by Meath in Leinster.
Evans was there in his capacity as senior manager with the Roscommon Under-21s who were beaten in the All-Ireland final of 2012 by a Jim Gavin- managed Dublin team featuring the soon-to-be-confirmed talents of Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul Mannion (below).
And, as he is quick to point out, he has taken Tipperary into battle in big Championship games against his native Kerry.
He has waged summer war on Mayo for Roscommon.
Naturally, Evans admits, there is excitement locally about Sunday but there is also trepidation about what might transpire.
“They’ve seen them on TV. They’ve seen them in the distance,” he says. “Now they’re going to be up close.
“What I’m more worried about is how they come out of the game more than how they handle the game itself,” he stresses.
“The game will come and go in a blip.”
That Wicklow beat Offaly in the first place was a fair achievement in itself - their first victory in the Championship since beating Longford in 2013 - albeit one that probably didn’t get the national acclaim it deserved on account of the ‘nuclear fallout’ that engulfed Offaly in the immediate aftermath.
“The fact that we were on the field for 40 minutes after the game told its own story. People were coming onto to the field shaking hands and laughing and smiling and hugging,” Evans recalls.
“It was the same in Tipperary. You don’t have that big band of supporters. But what you have are very loyal. So we took our time out and enjoyed it.”
Annoyed over the venue?
“Ah no. Once we got to Monday and it was all done and dusted, we just focused on going back down to Portlaoise,” he chirps.
“We had just won there. Why would we be giving out about it?”
It has been mentioned already how well Carlow, a Division 4 team last year, acquitted themselves well last summer against the Dubs in Portlaoise and it’s only a few months since Wicklow champions, Rathnew, ousted St Vincent’s from the Leinster Club Championship.
The relevance of either is negligible Evans stresses.
“Turlough O’Brien has openly said it took his team five years to get his team into the position they were in. And Rathnew … Harry Murphy said the same thing.
“And all credit to both of them. But I’m only five months in the job.
“Our lads are trying to learn our game, they’re still trying to implement it.
“Some with difficulty. So we’re at our very infancy stage.
“Look,” he adds, “I don’t see us knocking down too much of a Dublin wall, to be honest with you.
“But at the same time, we’re going to enjoy it.
“We’re going to try to embrace it.”