John Davis didn’t attempt to hide his emotions at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday afternoon.
And rightly so.
The 69-year-old Meath manager had just seen his team defeat Cork in the replay of the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland intermediate camogie championship final.
The victory was another rung in the incredible ladder of achievement overseen by Davis. The achievement has been staggering and would be front-page news in any other sport: Davis has steered the Royals from Junior B to senior status and from Division 4 to the top flight of the National League.
The tears shed at the final whistle in Limerick were all the more understandable, given the trials and tragedy faced by Davis off the field over the past decade.
He explained: “My son Derek was 26 when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and he died four years later. Just 15 months ago, my wife Theresa passed away and the girls stuck with me throughout that difficult time. She would always be at the games and the girls all knew her. We were playing Down in the league before the hurlers in the replayed final of the Christy Ring Cup and the girls wanted to cancel, as Theresa was being buried that day, but I couldn’t let them do that. It is not every day you get to play in Croke Park and I preferred they go out and enjoy it and I knew Theresa would have wanted that too.”
The weekend win against a highly rated Cork outfit was, he admits, one of the most defining moments of an illustrious managerial career which also includes a stint at the helm of the Meath senior hurlers in the ’90s.
“Cork are a very strong side and we just set out a plan to stop them playing their hurling and it paid off.
“Playing in a televised game in Croke Park [in the drawn game], the girls will take that with them for the rest of their lives.
“It has been great to have underage coaching coming on leaps and bounds, also, even after the girls winning at the weekend.
“I remember a few of our youth co-ordinators telling me the turnout on Monday morning for training was the highest it has been.
“They all want to be like the girls!”
Davis was a successful player for his local side Brownstown in Westmeath where he brought them to three senior championships, the first two as a player/manager. He admitted the side he now coaches were in difficulty when he appeared.
“When I first arrived, we were struggling at the lower level and weren’t getting much help. We had football taking precedence, along with college and injuries being difficult to manage, but credit to the girls, the effort from them in the last few years has been phenomenal. Winning against Cork at the weekend really showed the progress that has been made with the girls playing at the top tier of camogie now.”
When asked on his future, Davis admitted: “I’ve never looked for a job in my life and I don’t plan to start now. I’ve always gone for the smaller clubs and tried to bring them up rather than going straight into a finished product, there’s no challenge in that. I owe a lot to the girls, and it’s a pleasure every day I get to work with them in their development.”
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