John Evans brings hard-earned experience to Roscommon ahead of Mayo encounter
After spells with Tipperary and Meath, he is putting his stamp on a new county
The nomad chooses his next destination according to need. John Evans spent last summer schlepping up to Meath and back from his Killorglin home without a thought, buzzed at the change of scenery. Having put down four years with his eyes across every nut, bolt and drill bit of Tipperary football, this was a return to the factory floor. Banty McEnaney had his name on the door, Evans was the coach. Blue collar work.
Come the autumn, he was ready to go again. Though his spell with Tipperary had come to an ignoble end with him calling time mid-season after relegation to Division Four, he still left with his reputation in surplus.
The summer with Meath did him no harm either, especially after they knocked Kildare out of Leinster and had Dublin needing to string 12 men across their goalline for the last kick of the Leinster final. It meant he had a couple of destinations to choose between when it came to his next post.
“I had declined a couple of offers because of distance and one thing and another,” he says. “I sat down with other county boards but Roscommon asked me then and I accepted the offer after a bit of consultation.”
But if distance was such a problem, Roscommon was an unlikely place to find a solution.
Even for a man who enjoys being in his car, you’re looking at a seven-hour round trip from his place to theirs and back.
In the end, he concedes that Roscommon were simply the most attractive option. Good manners prevented him spelling it out first time around.
“I probably shouldn’t be saying this but on the one hand you’re telling one county it’s too far away and on the other you’re telling another you’ll do it. Look, it comes down to your own decision at the end of the day. If you want to do it, you’re not going to look at distance. If you like what you see and you think you can contribute and get satisfaction out of it yourself for the team, that’s the combination you’re looking at.
“I would have known Roscommon from playing them in challenge games. I would have crossed path with them at underage level. And of course the Tipperary minors played Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final so I would have known those players especially well and I knew Fergal O’Donnell particularly well.
“I had to take stock of what was there. I’m not going to be saying that they were terrible or whether they were good or bad. That’s my opinion. I knew there was a lot of work to be done and that there were certain changes that had to be made. That’s part and parcel of the make-up of what I do.”
The journey so far hasn’t necessarily made him overly popular with the Roscommon public. There have been some players overboard, including his goalkeeper and sub-goalkeeper a month before the championship. Their league campaign took a long time to show anything by way of progress, albeit that they finished much better than they started. All the while, Evans told anyone who’d listen that he was in the job for two years, not six months.
“You have to look at the personalities and ask are these guys good enough and willing enough and open enough to change. Sometimes you will find there are none so blind as those who will not see. Since I’ve been to Roscommon, I’ve come across a few guys who are terribly honest and who have put up their hands and said, ‘Look, I’m just not seeing it’.
“They worked very hard and got themselves tremendously fit but they just weren’t seeing the pattern of the game. There are some guys who are great club footballers, who are tremendously fit but they just weren’t seeing it. They were saying, ‘look John, we can’t get our hands on the ball’. I don’t want to knock these guys but that’s what it was coming down to.
“You try and encourage and put the hand around the shoulder and say, ‘Well look, if you do this, this, this and this, it will certainly help you.’ The thing is, a lot of guys have their own game ingrained in their head and you’re trying to get them to see a different one. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re bad footballers.”
So there’s been a fair amount of turnover. The team named for tomorrow’s tangle with Mayo shows eight different names to the one that started against Tyrone when they exited the qualifiers last year. Some of it has been natural ebb and flow, some of it has been Evans cleaning the slate.
“The players who came on board and wanted to commit, they were committing for one purpose and that was to change what was. They intend to make it better . . that’s what they came on board to do. That’s what they want to do on Sunday and in the weeks after that as well.
“The big thing with it is that it’s slow process. It’s not a ‘click your fingers and everything will be better’ job. It’s like our league form. We started off slowly and sluggishly but we got better and better as we went on.
“We were putting brick on brick on brick as we went along, building the foundations. We were trying new players and young players and by the latter end of it, we were finishing very strong.
“We’d be hoping we’ve put enough of a foundation in now to maybe make an assault on the championship. Depending on what the result is, we’ll see how much more of an effort we have to put in after Sunday.”
He knows what’s expected. How could he not? Having atomised Galway, Mayo have the look of Pamplona bulls who don’t care who they trample underfoot. Roscommon are the next victims and nobody is predicting otherwise. Evans least of all.
“We don’t know until we see what happens. We don’t know. Sunday will be another building block. There’s no point in one running ahead of yourself and saying it’s going to be the be-all and end-all. We’re on a journey, we’re a few months into this journey and this is going to be part and parcel of the building of the team. It’s going to be part of what will make us.
“Everybody and anybody will look at the score. I will look at how we played, how we reacted. I’ll be looking at other ingredients as well as the score obviously. We’ll be looking at the performance. Some people look at the performance as a sort of a shield to hide behind but there are a number of things you’d be looking at.
“The camaraderie after the game, how they react to whether they win, lose or draw. You look at a whole series of things and it’s a matter of it all being a work in progress.”
Maybe he’s playing the poor mouth. More likely, it’s just cold realism. The nomadic life depends on it.