The Premier County, impressive in the NFL this year, scored a first championship victory since 2003 as they came away with a gritty one-point win from Drogheda’s Gaelic Grounds.
Evans has masterminded two successive promotions since taking charge but this was his first championship success, at the fourth time of asking. Tipp’s long wait for success in the championship had stretched back six years, when they defeated Carlow, but the NFL Division 3 champions now face Sligo in the second round qualifiers with optimism.
Evans said: “Tipperary have made a break away from just being league contenders. We bridged a 38-year gap in the league with silverware and now we’ve ended a six-year wait for a championship win. It came down to the wire – three times they came back at us and three times, we fought them off.”
Barry Grogan’s well-taken 26th minute goal helped Tipp establish a 1-8 to 0-5 half-time advantage against their hosts The game was pockmarked by a massive tally of 54 frees while referee Syl Doyle felt the need to brandish 13 yellow and two red cards though the match was never dirty.
A run of four unanswered points before half-time proved crucial as Tipp reached the midway point six ahead and while they led by seven with nine minutes of normal time remaining, a late Louth surge left Tipp hanging on.
Crucially, Tipp conceded just two points with 14 men after goalkeeper Matthew O’Donnell was sent off before the numbers were evened up when Derek Crilly was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
A dramatic second half, which saw Louth attacker JP Rooney miss one and then later score another penalty, sprung to life when O’Donnell caught Colm Judge high around the neck as he rounded the goalkeeper seven minutes after half-time.
Doyle’s decision to red card the Killenaule shot-stopper was correct but when play finally resumed four minutes later with a resultant penalty, Rooney failed to make Tipp pay, screwing his effort wide.
Tipp, beaten Munster SFC quarter-finalists against Limerick, funnelled men back and held firm for the next seven minutes before centre back Crilly saw red.
And with nine minutes remaining, Philip Austin rounded Louth goalkeeper Stuart Reynolds and found the net with his left foot for the visitors’ very first score of the second half.
That goal opened up a 2-8 to 0-7 lead but the Wee County challenge was revived four minutes from the end of normal time when Robbie Costigan was penalised for a foot block and Rooney tucked away the penalty.
Louth kept battling and were back to within a single point before Tipp survived over five minutes of injury time for a precious win.
Evans acknowledged Tipp have shaken a huge monkey off their backs. He roared: “July 4; Independence Day and freedom for Tipperary.”
In front of 2,000 fans, Tipp carried the greater cutting edge in the first half, despite Louth statistics revealing that the home side won 15 kick outs compared to Tipp’s four.
The trend favoured Eamonn McEneaney’s side 2-1 in the second half and yet Tipp still came away with the spoils.
Evans insisted: “Nice football doesn’t win games. Today we decided we would contain and attack, rather than going all out attack. We said we’d approach this game with a lot more composure.”
McEneaney is considering his future as manager after four years in charge.
Hopes were high of victory on Saturday to erase the memory of the Leinster SFC reverse to Laois but McEneaney was left to lament a cruel run of luck which robbed him of four key players at various stages.
The former Monaghan star said: “We lost Darren Clarke to suspension for four weeks, Mick Fanning tweaked his hamstring before the game and we had him earmarked to man-mark Barry Grogan (who finished with 1-5).
“Shane Lennon hurt his knee and looked like he was on fire. Then his replacement Aaron Hoey dislocates his shoulder.”
When asked about his future in charge, McEneaney replied: “We’ll see. I’m going to take some time out first. We have a (Leinster) junior final (replay) against Longford on Wednesday in Longford. For the rest of the players on the panel, they’ll be mad to get out and prove a point.”
Scorers for Louth: JP Rooney (1-3), B White (0-3f), P Keenan, R Carroll, C Judge, S Lennon, D Maguire & A Hoey (f) (0-1 each).
Scorers for Tipperary: B Grogan (1-5, 0-3f), P Austin (1-0), B Coen (0-2 (1f), R Costigan, B Fox & B Coen (0-1 each).
Subs for Louth: A Hoey for Lennon (inj, 20), P Smith for Hoey (inj, 37), B McArdle R Finnegan (60), D Maguire for Reid (60).
Subs for Tipperary: P Fitzgerald for Mulryan (45), D O’Brien for Carey (58), A Fitzgerald for Austin (inj, 64), E Hanrahan for Coghlan (70+3), A Moloney for Mulvihill (70+5).
Referee: Syl Doyle (Wexford).