Kerry native John Evans has worked the oracle with Tipperary and Roscommon amongst others. And he admits that the time has come for sweeping changes to football competition structures.
Q: With 37 of a minimum 61 games played, Championship 2016 has passed the halfway mark and is winding up for the long descent home. How would you rate the summer’s fare so far?
Aside from the northern games, it has been a poor championship in terms of the quality of football served up. I have really enjoyed the Ulster games, particularly the two semi-finals.
The drawn fixtures involving Donegal-Monaghan and Cavan-Tyrone were tremendous advertisements for the game. All four have improved on where they were last year and that is what made their respective games so interesting. Quality and improvement have been exclusive to these four teams this summer.
Q: Further proof, then, that Ulster is the last remaining provincial championship of any real competitive nature?
The fact that Mayo’s dominance has been broken in Connacht goes against the grain, but certainly Leinster and Munster have shown little change with Kerry and Dublin way out in front.
Q: That Galway win over Mayo, coupled with Tipperary shocking Cork, were welcome surprises in breathing a bit of life into the championship.
Of course, but the Galway versus Mayo fixture was far removed from the Ulster semi-finals in terms of quality. It wasn’t a good game at all. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was good to see the championship shaken up so early in the summer.
Both Tipperary and Galway had purpose about them in securing their respective wins. The Munster championship, though, apart from the Tipperary win, was a non-event. Clare and Kerry was a disappointing game, as was the Munster final. Thus far in Leinster, the quality hasn’t been good either.
Take Kerry and Dublin, they haven’t expanded any energy. They haven’t had to go into third gear yet. Overall, it has been an average championship when you assess it on the basis of entertainment provided.
Q: That point on Dublin and Kerry having to expand little by the way of energy en-route to the knock-out stages would suggest you’re not entirely on side with the current structure?
I’m not. I would like to see an open championship. That’d be my call. The GPA put forward a structure earlier in the year that I was taken with.
If it was broken up into eight groups of four and you had a seeded team in each, it would be absolutely great. We don’t need to get rid of provincial championships but play them off in a shorter time-frame.
A team that is progressing through their provincial championship should be out every fortnight and none of these long breaks between games. It is possible to have them all over by the end of June and then come the 1st of July all 32 teams begin the race for Sam Maguire.
Q: There are three provincial finals remaining. Which excites you the most?
I am contemplating, if I can get my fixtures right, of travelling from Kerry to Clones to see the Ulster final because I would love to see it live; two teams who have been great in the past and know what it takes to get there.
Donegal have impressed me no end and I tipped them to beat Monaghan because their economy in front of goal and the number of scoring opportunities they are converting has improved immensely on last year. Tyrone, on the other hand, are showing a lot of their old style. You could well see another replay up north.
Q: Will you rearrange your schedule so to have yourself in Pearse Stadium tomorrow afternoon?
I would have a vested interest in Salthill. That is going to be a humdinger. Roscommon have all the forwards, while Galway are becoming more and more comfortable with playing a defensive game.
Roscommon are starved of success. They are ravenous at this stage. They want to win a Connacht championship. They are going in the right direction so now is the time to do it. Both teams require a big win after Mayo’s sustained period of dominance.
Q: Who are the potential match-winners on either side?
Galway have Shane Walsh and I have seen him do wondrous things. Damien Comer is another guy that really, really stands out. Their midfield pairing of Flynn and Conroy is very strong.
Kevin Walsh, too, has impressed me. He is not that vocal with the media but is getting the job done with quiet assurance. For Roscommon, it is great to see Enda Smith, Ultan Harney and Diarmuid Murtagh coming back into it. Then you have Senan Kilbride and Cathal Cregg. Wonderful players. If Fergal and Kevin can sort out midfield, they have the forwards to win.
Q: Any regret that you won’t be patrolling the sideline in Salthill?
It is what it is. I am happy where I am. I’m in a good place. The health is good and that is the important thing to me. I can, of course, see myself returning to the sideline.
Q: We’ve hardly mentioned Leinster, proof positive of its near-irrelevance in the overall race for Sam?
Yes, it is fierce one-sided. Dublin will win that but I’d be hoping Westmeath give a better account of themselves than last year. They’d want to, wouldn’t they? Tom Cribbin has been criticised for his style of management yet he is the first Westmeath manager to get them to back-to-back Leinster finals. The players have rowed in behind him. They are warming to his absolute honesty.
Q: Has your interest in the qualifiers been piqued by the early falls of Monaghan, Cork and Mayo in their respective provincial championships?
It seems the qualifiers are stacked on one side which throws me back to the structure of the championship and how this wouldn’t happen if the eight groups were seeded. Two years ago, the same thing happened. Here we are again and nobody bats an eyelid.
Q: What have you made of Cork’s demise this year? League relegation and then a 72-year gap to their last championship defeat to Tipperary bridged.
I know a lot of these Cork lads from my time at Tipperary. They are hugely talented but they are just not gelling together. There is no point blaming one manager after another. There are some real prestigious players there, exotic players with skill dripping off their fingers, but they are not bringing it together. I’m surprised they’ve slipped a bit.
Q: Finally, who are the dark horses likely to bolt through the back door into August?
If Galway lose tomorrow, don’t write them off. Tipperary will have to improve another bit if they are to make a quarter-final. Outside that, it is safe to assume the Ulster runners-up will make the quarter-finals and when you factor in Mayo there isn’t much room left for anyone else.
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