Maldini a better corner-back than Fan Larkin? Dan McEvoy didn’t think so

Dan McEvoy from the Hebron Road, opposite Nowlan Park, went to his first All-Ireland final in 1945. He was 17-years-old.

Maldini a better corner-back than Fan Larkin? Dan McEvoy didn’t think so

He brought his bicycle on the train to Dublin and stayed with his cousin Brendan Joyce in the latter’s flat in Dun Laoghaire. Kilkenny were playing Tipp and, being young enough to know no better, Dan reckoned they couldn’t be beaten.

They were, 5-6 to 3-6, upon which he sat down on the steps of the Long Stand in Croke Park and cried. Well, how was he to know he’d witness 38 more All-Ireland finals involving Kilkenny or that they’d win 26 of them?

They were beaten again the following year by Cork. This time he didn’t cry, possibly because he had discovered the other sporting love of his life. In the summer of 1946 the greyhound track opened in Kilkenny. Our man attended the first meeting. He was still a regular 69 years later.

Hurling and greyhounds would remain part of his life’s rhythm forever. One year he went to the Waterloo Cup in Altcar and while in Liverpool purchased a duffle coat, all the rage at home at the time.

He spent various holidays in England as a young man, claimed to have seen Don Bradman in action and was at Ascot the year Ballymoss won the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes for Vincent O’Brien.

Back home he farmed and he ran a cardboard disposal business and in 1962, at the age of 34, he somehow contrived to marry a hot blonde 10 years his junior. They had three children: Pepsi Sister, Archive Sister and me, the eldest. In due course Archive Sister would inform him he’d punched well above his weight in the marriage stakes. He had the good sense not to disagree.

Memories of my childhood? All those Kilkenny/Clare league finals in Thurles in the mid-1970s, standing on the grass bank that’s now the New Stand. Him going to the coursing in Clonmel every February. Being brought to the dogs in Enniscorthy and Clonmel and Thurles.

He had a ticket source in Dublin at the time so the All Ireland final became an annual ritual for the two of us, even when Kilkenny were absent, and he was delighted to be there for Galway in 1980 and Offaly the following year.

The 1972 All-Ireland final figured among his very favourites; 1966 had no equal for painfulness. He brought Pepsi Sister to matches too, including a couple of Leinster football finals in the early 1980s, usually in his favoured Lower Cusack.

I’ve a vague notion he had a sneaking regard for Brian Mullins. “Probably the most animated he ever got in life was during a game,” she says.

“Obviously he was never a yeller and rarely lost his temper, but he did on a few occasions during the more tempestuous games. This included some interaction with opposing supporters. But he always made peace with them at the final whistle.”

We returned to Thurles for the 1995 Munster final and he had quite the day. Clare’s victory gave him a thrill because his mother’s people, the Lenehans, had come from there, and afterwards we gave Jimmy Barry-Murphy, manager of the victorious Cork minors the same day, a lift from the Square to the Anner Hotel.

The pair of them talked greyhounds, not hurling. My father dined out on it for years.

After she retired he and my mother travelled widely. Italy, Spain, Israel, cruises. One Sunday night in Milan they took a vagary, wandered out to the San Siro and watched AC play Fiorentina.

He didn’t find Paolo Maldini to be a better corner-back than Fan Larkin, mind. And around the same time Brian Cody came along and made Dan’s declining years very happy ones indeed.

For a man who’d lived through the dark days under Slievenamon’s shadow Tipperary’s famine had prompted no schadenfreude, although he didn’t lose too much sleep over it either. Certainly the sight of a pre-Dublin Ryan O’Dwyer flaking all around him on TG4 one Sunday brought an acerbic, “He’s one of the old school alright.”

But he was glad to be there in 2009 and 2011. In 2009 he and the blonde lady even went out on the pitch afterwards.

“At your age..?!” I scoffed to him that night.

Pepsi Sister was back from New York and drove him up to the drawn game two years ago. “I think he knew that would be his last final,” she says. “I hadn’t realised until that day just how much he’d slowed down. But what a fitting finale.”

Away from hurling, while some part of him would have liked to remain forever in the 1950s, the rest of him moved pretty well with the times. “What’s a puff daddy?” he asked my mother a few years back.

Part of that, according to my sisters, was because we kept him young; they’re probably right there. And this daily Mass-goer, lifelong Pioneer and perennial Fine Gael voter was more than happy to vote Yes in the marriage referendum last year.

Latterly he was fascinated by Diarmuid Connolly, whose grandfather from Clara he’d gone to school with, and he continued to back the odd horse.

His final visit to the dogs was the Friday week before his death.

There’s a lot to be said for being taken ill while having your tea at home in the kitchen at the age of 87 and a half.

He had his bags packed a long time ago, as he was fond of saying, and he’d have absolutely hated to have lingered on.

We buried him the following Sunday, a gloriously sunny November day.

The greyhound men gave him a guard of honour and when we got to the cemetery, just up beyond Nowlan Park, a few shouts strayed in over the wall from O’Loughlins: there was a match going on next door. How beautifully apt.

We discovered afterwards they’d discussed postponing the game before deciding he’d have wanted it to go ahead, which of course he would have. But they asked the referee not to blow the whistle and he didn’t.

There were four All Ireland-winning captains at the wake, one of whom had travelled from Clarecastle. Johnny Callinan, also from Clarecastle, made it over for the funeral. Len Gaynor, whom Dan had met once or twice over the years, wrote a lovely letter. John Meyler and Ger Cunningham, whom I’d had little contact with for years, got in touch.

The following month the Tipperary County Board — keen Examiner readers, obviously — moved a vote of sympathy, a really classy gesture and one that would have tickled him immensely.

Me, I’ve missed him most on high days of sport. Cheltenham week.

Arriving home from Thurles or Croke Park and him not being there for the post-mortem. He’d have been pleased to see Jonjo Farrell, a grandson of his old friend Jimmy Farrell in Thomastown, doing so well in the Leinster championship and he’d have been overjoyed to see Paul Hennessy, who trained a fabulous little animal called Cashman’s Cat to win 33 races for him, finally winning the English Derby at Wimbledon.

In the aftermath Paul thanked a number of people “who looked down on us tonight”. Dan, he confirmed to us a few days later, was one of them.

Last Sunday night the final of the Dan McEvoy Memorial was held at the track in Kilkenny. One of Paul Hennessy’s inmates won it. Perfect.

This weekend Kilkenny play their first All- Ireland final since 1926 that Dan won’t have been alive for. But he’ll be there in spirit and one way or another he’ll enjoy the occasion, regardless of who wins. No tears afterwards this time.

Don't miss the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast. Daithi Regan, Tadhg O'Connor, Eddie Keher, Eamonn Murphy and PM O'Sullivan join Peter McNamara to discuss the Kilkenny v Tipperary All-Ireland hurling final.

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