Wicklow are out on Saturday night in what is the curtain raiser for this year’s Leinster Football Senior Championship.
Forever an underdog, it’s always hard for the Garden County to compete with the top-tier teams and the odds are most definitely stacked against the Division 4 side when they meet Kildare at Netwatch Cullen Park.
However, there is one thing the Wicklow men have that Kildare don’t have… John Evans.
A legend among GAA circles, football courses through the Kerry man’s body.
“Ah sure look my passion is football. It’s my sun, moon and stars, I breathe, talk, walk Gaelic football and when I was asked to take the challenge in Wicklow, I didn’t look at the distance, I didn’t look at the mountains, I didn’t look at what division they were in. I just said: ‘Yeah, look if I can be of help, I’ll be of help’,” Evans told Pundit Arena.
A veteran on the inter-county scene, Evans says his passion for the game comes from the joy of helping teams improve. He’s done it with Tipperary, then Roscommon and is now playing his part in improving Wicklow.
“I just like improving teams.”
“With Tipperary, we went from division four to three, to two. In Roscommon, we went from (division) three, to two, to one. So, I like to see progress and the progress is there in Wicklow.
“The county board have great aspirations and what they’re doing for teams at underage and the development of the underage structure is fantastic. Kevin O’Brien is doing fantastic work with the U17s, I take the U20s, it’s the development of football at all levels. There’s the Garden County Academy which is brilliant and there are sponsorships and funding going into that and that’s the only way forward.”
For Evans, the only way to improve a county’s chances of success is by investing in the youth rather than going for a short-term fix at senior level.
“I’d be totally against putting all your resources into the senior team because that’s not the way forward, the way forward is a conveyor belt of teams coming up along. Once you get one, two or three teams in a row. If you get two U17 teams in a row or two U20 teams in a row then you have the foundation of a senior team coming down the track.
“I suppose I learned that last year so far as when I went in there I realised it was going to be a lot longer than what I envisaged anyway. I agreed to a two-year term and then we’d review for the third year. I suddenly realised getting in a young band of footballers and developing them was the way to go and that’s what we’ve done and we’ve stuck with it.”
This weekend, however, his attention turns to the senior team and their meeting with Kildare.
Following the end of the league, inter-county teams around the country broke away for the month of April as all footballing activity was dedicated to clubs.
With such a short turnaround, Evans admits it’s not ideal for inter-county management teams with the main worry being that players pick up injuries so close to the championship.
“When you’re out the first week or ten days of May it gives you very little time to prepare. Obviously, it’s not ideal for management but having said that we let the players go back and they played with their clubs. It’s the injuries you pick up and the knocks.”
Evans believes players would benefit from less congestion around the month of April so as to avoid overloading.
“The only thing I would say about it is the players are after playing seven competitive games, okay, there’s a break but when they go into April, they’re going; one, two, three, four games on the trot and I would prefer to play two championship games and maybe a league game, something that there isn’t too much congestion or overload because that’s what cause injuries actually, overload.
“When you’ve overloaded, players get tired, they make mistakes and when they make mistakes they get injured so it’s very difficult to prepare.”
Wicklow face Kildare in the first round of the Leinster Senior Football Championship at Netwatch Cullen Park tomorrow at 7pm.