Evans’ rescue act puts smiles back on Ardfinnan faces

If John Evans didn’t know he achieved something special with Ardfinnan, he realised it when a one-armed Babs Keating, the club’s most famous son, channeled his inner David Pleat and invaded the Holycross pitch after the club’s county semi-final win over Loughmore-Castleiney.

Evans’ rescue act puts smiles back on Ardfinnan faces

If John Evans didn’t know he achieved something special with Ardfinnan, he realised it when a one-armed Babs Keating, the club’s most famous son, channeled his inner David Pleat and invaded the Holycross pitch after the club’s county semi-final win over Loughmore-Castleiney.

“Babs came running onto the field with the left shoulder strapped and he shook hands with me and he said, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done for this little village’,” chuckles Evans.

“To be quite honest with you, it’s been a huge lift for myself. Sometimes when you’re a coach, county or not, and something like this comes along it’s just so good to see the smiles on people’s faces.

“It’s great to see a traditional club being revived.”

Ardfinnan’s progress to a first final in 13 years is as close to a Gaelic football fairytale given they were one game away from relegation play-offs back in August thanks to a 3-22 to 0-7 loss to Clonmel Commercials in April.

It was then Petey Savage, one of Tipperary football’s greatest characters, sent out the signal for Evans to perform a rescue mission as coach.

“He was involved in bringing me into Tipperary 12 years ago,” recalls Evans.

“He rang me and he said, ‘My heart is broken. My club are after being beaten by 24 points by Clonmel Commercials. We’re facing relegation, everything is falling apart and lads are leaving and they don’t want to play.’ He asked me to come in and I said, ‘Not a hope, Petey, I’m just after finishing a hard campaign with Wicklow’.

He quoted me his age — 74 — and he spoke about the great history of the club. He’s a die-hard and he said ‘you won’t leave me down after all these years’ so I said ‘right, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’ll go in for a few weeks’.

Evans’ mission was accomplished as soon as Ardfinnan beat Éire Óg Annacarty but he sensed there was more in them. “I knew they had a great tradition but they were on low tide. All I had to do was win one game and that saved them from relegation. That’s the way it’s been for them the last five years but this year it looked like they were certain to go down.

“From there then, that gave us a bit of heart and belief and the next thing we went and played Aherlow and we were on the front-foot. They played great stuff against Aherlow. It was a sunny day in Cashel and I remember saying to them on the field afterwards ‘look, lads, it’s time to call a spade a spade. Are we interested in going on?’ I also said, ‘Lads, you are after giving me as big a lift as I’ve got in my life’.

“I was so proud of them.

“The next thing we drew Ballyporeen, their neighbours, and that was motivation in itself. They won that game 0-22 to 0-9 and they were enjoying their football. They were so low that all the coaching and instruction you were putting in they were absorbing it.”

Ardfinnan were 4/1 outsiders against Loughmore-Castleiney but that didn’t matter a hoot to Evans.

"Everyone was saying we were in bonus territory but I thought we were improving every time. Neither the team nor myself knew their limits and the one thing I was instilling in them was they were going to be tested in every facet by Loughmore because my admiration for Loughmore goes beyond saying they’re a great club."

Sure enough, they stood the test and deservedly so as tight as it was.

“It’s gone way beyond anything we were dreaming of. (Former Tipperary football chairman) Joe Hannigan rang me and said, ‘You were 200/1 starting out. I’m kicking myself I didn’t put money on ye.’ You would have been a madman putting a euro on us at the start.”

Moyle Rovers, themselves hoping to end a nine-year spell without a title, stand in the way but since Ardfinnan have got this far they are indulging the belief they can take them.

"It’s for the likes of Petey Savage whose life is only football that I’m most happy for,” says Evans.

He smokes a pipe, walks with a blackthorn stick and I think it’s to bate off any other fella who’s bigger than him!

“You can’t go anywhere unless you have the CCs under the bonnet and we brought in a few young fellas who had never played for the club before. They were sponges, took in what they were learning and they carried it out. You know, that’s what life is all about.”

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.