John Evans on the miles put in to keep inter-county show on the road

Depending on what route you take, it’s a journey of about four hours from John Evans’ native Killorglin to Aughrim, Wicklow GAA’s county ground.

John Evans on the miles put in to keep inter-county show on the road

Depending on what route you take, it’s a journey of about four hours from John Evans’ native Killorglin to Aughrim, Wicklow GAA’s county ground.

Evans found it tough going for a finish up, not so much because of the long journey, the last leg of which traverses particularly challenging terrain, but because the results had dried up.

It had been a similar distance up to Roscommon when he’d managed there, and to Navan when he was coaching Meath, but those teams had enjoyed relative success, making the trip seem far shorter.

“Tipperary was my initial journey; I did five years there and that sort of groomed me, then I went to Roscommon and because we’d had so much success in both Tipp and Roscommon, the mileage factor never really came into my head,” said Evans.

“Where I really felt it was in Wicklow, I had two years of travelling to Wicklow with results often going against you.

“If you’re having success, you don’t think about the mileage but when you’re not getting the results it makes the journey that bit longer.”

Evans departed as Wicklow manager after last year’s Championship and within weeks three more Kerrymen — Micheal Quirke, Paul Galvin and Jack O’Connor— had all signed up to similar long haul jobs with Leinster counties.

With Peter Keane in charge of Kerry, that’s four Kingdom men directing senior county teams for 2020, the largest representation of managers from any one county with Mayo (John Maughan/James Horan), Cavan (Terry Hyland, Mickey Graham), Galway (Anthony Cunningham/Padraic Joyce) and Tyrone (Mickey Harte/Ryan McMenamin) next.

There were five Kerry men in charge of county teams in 2018 and, in all, nine different figures from the county — Evans, Quirke, Galvin, O’Connor, Keane, John Sugrue, Liam Kearns, Stephen Wallace and Éamonn Fitzmaurice — have guided teams in the last three seasons.

Two of them, O’Connor and Quirke, will square off Saturday evening in a crucial Division 2 game and with Laois faring surprisingly well despite a series of high profile winter defections, a home win in Portlaoise would probably sink Kildare’s promotion hopes.

Three-time All-Ireland winning Kerry manager O’Connor stated after pitching up in Kildare last September that promotion to Division 1 was his initial target.

“It is because to do anything serious in the Championship you’d want to be playing Division 1 and playing the best teams on a regular basis,” he said at the time.

The irony now is that Quirke, who experienced success under O’Connor as a player with both Kerry and Kerins O’Rahillys, could be the man to drive home the nail. Tier 2 football could even be a possibility for the Lilywhites.

O’Connor, like Evans before him, might be starting to feel the 350km drive from St Finan’s Bay to Kildare a bit more now.

“Jack will obviously not be happy with Kildare’s situation,” said Evans. “If I know him at all, he’ll be looking for a major performance from them. I came up against Jack several times in management.

When I was with Tipp we met his Kerry teams three years in a row. They always treated you with huge respect and that’s what good teams do. When Mick O’Dwyer was in charge of Wicklow, I came up against them too and we got promoted the same day we played them.

"It doesn’t matter who is on the line across from you. It’s Jack O’Connor and Micheal Quirke coming up against each other but that’s a bit of a sideshow really.”

The last time Kerry didn’t have the highest representation of managers in the senior game was 2017 when Kildare had Cian O’Neill (Kildare), Tom Cribbin (Westmeath) and Niall Carew (Sligo) in jobs with only Fitzmaurice and Kearns keeping the Kerry flag flying.

Mind you, even that statistic regarding Kildare is a dubious one with current selector and Clane clubman Cribbin moving to the county as a youngster from Laois.

Either way, few counties seem to churn out managers quite like Kerry with officials going out of their way at times to snap up a high profile Kerry figure, Laois’ pursuit of Quirke being a case in point.

“If you’ve had success in Kerry, no matter what the level is, it definitely does give you that extra bit of confidence,” said Evans, who moved up to the inter-county scene after masterminding Laune Rangers’ 1996 All-Ireland club win.

“I remember Sean Kelly saying that if you could survive football management in Kerry, you could survive it anywhere.”

Evans is currently in charge of Glenbeigh-Glencar, just down the road from him.

“I don’t know myself, I’m delighted to be so close to home,” said the retired detective, who has relations involved with the team.

Not that he’s suggesting managers like Quirke and O’Connor made the wrong choice taking on roles in Leinster, far from it.

“The flip side of it is that the car or whatever you’re using to get up there is your office, you can get a lot done in terms of calls to people and just thinking through stuff. I’ve done 12 years of it and one thing I’d say is you’ve got to make it a priority to keep yourself in decent shape.

"You have to train really hard on your days off to keep yourself right. I remember training the Tipperary minors and I cycled every day up around the MacGillycuddy Reeks which toughened me up and hardened me for when you got out on the training field.

"When you hop out of that car for training, you have to be buzzing.”

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