John Evans: Wicklow should lure more talent from Dublin
Champions’ record deal with AIG contrasts with a struggle for suitable training conditions
Wicklow manager John Evans: “We had two belts of snow, the rest of the country only had one,” File photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If the exact amount of Dublin’s extended sponsorship deal with US insurance giant AIG is unclear the timing of it is not: a loud reminder of the depth of resources Dublin will bring to the league and championship over the next five years.
Understood to be worth close to €1 million per year, and already the biggest sponsorship in GAA history, the deal will see Dublin through to the end of 2023, covering all grades of the game including the men’s senior football and hurling teams and also women’s football and camogie.
The extended deal will also see AIG sponsor the new performance centre at Parnell Park, due for completion this month and available for club and county players from across Dublin.
No wonder people such as Wicklow manager John Evans are looking in from just across the border and wondering might there be some way of tapping into those resources: Wicklow does after all share Dublin’s entire southern borderline, the same language and currency and culture, yet in Gaelic football and hurling terms may as well be a world apart.
One of the suggested solutions is for Wicklow to benefit from a more liberal cross-border agreement: one of only two counties never to win a provincial football title, Wicklow face Offaly on Sunday for the right to play Dublin in the quarter-final, the All-Ireland champions boasting an increasingly enviable depth of talent.
However, Evans stops short of agreeing with a system whereby counties such as Wicklow would be able to “import” a certain number of players with no actual ties to the county, club or otherwise.
“I think you have to have a strong affiliation to the county you are playing for,” says Evans, in his first year with the Garden County, having previously managed Tipperary and later Roscommon.
That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t advise a few Dublin footballers who happen to be living or working in Wicklow, as many are, to move colours, given the close proximity: “Maybe not lads who are at the top level for Dublin, but certainly guys who are really good footballers, who are of Wicklow parentage, absolutely, I think they should be doing it.
“I think it would be one of the strides that I’d try and breakthrough on, is to tap into that and convince guys and say ‘hey look Wicklow can be successful’. What they should be doing is getting themselves into intercounty mode, playing football, showcasing themselves, that’s the way you play at a higher standard.”
Last year Wicklow announced a three-year sponsorship deal with Joule heating manufacturers, while Dublin currently benefit from about 12 different sponsors in all (including cars, nutrition, gear, etc).
“Funnily enough, we are not lacking in resources,” says Evans. “What we are lacking in Wicklow is training conditions. We’re after the most horrible winter of all time. The training conditions will have to improve.
“Mick Fahey was chairman of Roscommon, I said you can’t get a team training in these conditions. We ended up, after the first year, never training in Roscommon again. We trained in Athlone IT, in St Loman’s, and do you know what happened? The whole level of skill improved immensely. The whole attitude of players playing in good conditions improved. Therefore they were performing better.
“We had two belts of snow, the rest of the country only had one. We had a second one 10 days later and we lost out on 2½ weeks of training. It’s an awful lot of preparation. It isn’t so much preparation but it downs the spirit of a team, it drags you down and if you don’t have things right for players, they won’t give it back to you.”
Evans spends a number of nights in Wicklow after training, rather than travel home to his native Kerry, but suggests some players aren’t so committed: “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 obviously, but they would be good strong players that you would need.
“Definitely eight, possibly 10. And that’s a lot. I don’t think players look at it that it’s the way the championship is set up. I think that they have other things in their life going on whether it’s through college or through travel. Players want to go. I just think the loyalty, the belief, the affiliation by guys towards their county has dropped considerably.”
The prize for beating Offaly may or may not be a part of that: “I would like to beat Offaly first, the reward is to get into the second round, but I see what you’re saying, ‘is that a reward?’ . . . I think if Offaly or Wicklow get through to play Dublin, it will be like killing a fly with a sledge.”