The prize for the winners of Sunday’s Offaly-Wicklow game is a date with Dublin, a take that John Evans likens to facing a ‘firing squad’.

But that is not to say that the Garden County boss is terrified at the prospect of advancing to meeting Jim Gavin’s men.

“In a developing team again, I’m happy to be progressing. It might be a bit slower but we have a few experienced players that have rowed in with us. We have all the clubs on board and I see the side improving game by game.

“I’d be very happy if they give a really good account of themselves against Offaly. I think if Offaly or Wicklow get through to play Dublin, it will be like killing a fly with a sledgehammer. It’s like facing the firing squad. If you die, at least you die fighting.”

Evans, who was part of preparing the last team to trouble Dublin in Leinster (when he was involved with Meath in 2012) doesn’t look upon an encounter with the All-Ireland champions as what’s on offer for the winners of Wicklow’s preliminary round match but simply an entry to the next stage.

“The reward is to get into the second round. Of course, I see what you’re saying, ‘is that a reward?’ They want to tog because they love to play the game, they’re in training because they want to improve.

"I don’t think we’re going to learn too much from playing Dublin if we get that far. It’s over a three-year cycle, it’s not one game.”

Evans gets a kick out of being told what he can’t do. He recalls one particular time in his spell as Roscommon manager: “I remember Karol Mannion saying, there isn’t a hope John that you will ever get Roscommon to score more than 13 points. 

"I said, ‘Karol, we get the right conditions, the right type of game, we’ll do it’. In fact, I remember going down to Kildare, St Conleth’s Park and we scored 25 points the second year. It’s about having the right conditions.”

John Evans
John Evans

But Evans can’t say he’s had that in Wicklow having missed out a few weeks of training during the spring because of bad weather and a lack of sufficient pitches.

Roscommon, he believes, improved when they used Athlone IT’s facilities. But available pitches are not the only obstacle Evans has faced.

“The disappointment I’ve had is the number, eight or nine or 10 players who wouldn’t play. All the clubs have committed. 

"But players that I had asked to play and had seen play championship, good players, they just didn’t want to commit because of personal reasons.

“And that’s a lot of players. These would be guys that would play full-back, centre-back, midfield, centre-forward or full-forward for their respective teams.”

Meath manager Andy McEntee has spoken this week about how players’ heads may have been turned by what’s been said by outside influences about their Championship chances. 

Evans is more of the mind players are not made as they used to be.

I don’t think players look at it that it’s the way the Championship is set up. I don’t think that. I think that they have other things in their life going on whether it’s through college or through travel.

“There are a number of well-known players going to America. Back in Tipperary, I remember one player was trying to decide whether he would go to America or not in 2007, 11 years ago. We were all shocked and horrified. 

"Now? It’s the norm. Players want to go. I just think the loyalty, the belief, the affiliation by guys towards their county has dropped considerably.

“They are being given huge rewards to travel and play, not alone to America. Guys in the modern day are looking at the financial circumstances and look, who am I to be saying that they are wrong but the same affiliation isn’t there.”

Even with that in mind, he’s against the idea of bringing in players with no affiliation to Wicklow like what might have been in the past and has been encouraged in hurling for developing counties. 

Although, he’s not against use of the parental rule: “Players of Wicklow parentage should be getting themselves into county mode, playing football, showcasing themselves because that’s the way you play at a higher standard.”

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