By Cian O’Connell
“I'm enjoying it - in the latter years of my life now I'm still getting a lot of satisfaction out of it,” Cill na Martra manager John Evans says about training teams.
Since taking his first coaching steps with Knocknagoshel decades ago, Evans still derives joy from sport. Hope and expectation combined, Evans simply wants to make an impact with a panel. With Cill na Martra a connection has been formed.
Sunday’s AIB Munster Club IFC Semi-Final against Kerry’s Milltown-Castlemaine will be a tough assignment, but Evans is encouraged about Cill na Martra’s progress.
“I'm getting a lot of pride out of it too, in bringing a team to senior for the first time,” Evans adds. “That was their ambition to get to senior. They had been in junior, they had several attempts at getting up.”
Cill na Martra’s initial mission has been accomplished, but in sport other tests always await. “So, becoming senior was the main thing, we are in bonus territory really, whatever that is, I never know what bonus territory is,” he laughs before referencing images that remain etched in his mind.
“That is where we are, it is epitomised by the scene after winning the county final, after beating Bantry in the final. To come to a country area, to see not one, not 10, but about 25 bonfires burning from outside each household at each cross we went to.
“There was no sign of light anywhere else, only bonfires burning as the team came home on the bus. It just gave that warm - I know I'm talking about fires and heat - but it gave that warm glow.
“The warm of glow of pride in Cill Na Martra, the satisfaction and warmth that is in the people themselves.”
The celebrations were about a place and its enduring affection for Gaelic Football. “They welcome you with a cup of tea and a scone or bread, whatever it is,” Evans explains.
“It isn't whiskey or brandy, they remind me a small bit of Loughmore-Castleiney above in Tipperary. Their tradition after winning is to go to the hall, to have a cup of tea and a sandwich. They are simple people, who have great values, they have that from being from the Gaeltacht, that pride.”
Throughout the country in Gaeltacht areas language and identity matters deeply. It is something Evans acknowledges. “Of course, down here in Kerry I'd have got it with An Gaeltacht, themselves and back in Dingle,” Evans says.
“They were always identified as separate and special, they regarded that, and they took a huge pride in the fact they were from a Gaeltacht area.
“It is the same with Cill Na Martra, they take a huge pride in where they are from. What it does mean is that every young boy and girl, they play football. The commitment by their parents, teachers, and the youngsters, themselves, it is total towards Gaelic Football.”
When the Cill na Martra call arrived, Evans didn’t need much persuading. “I hit it off well with them,” Evans responds. “They are a country team. I started out myself with a country team in Knocknagoshel, that was the first team that I took.
“They are country lads, away we went, I had a couple of different situations that arose at the time, but the Cill na Martra boys asked me to call. I was driving my son to UCC, I said of course I will call to them, to see how it goes. I took to them like a duck to water.”
“If you can imagine, it is just a small village, they call it The Cross. You have two pubs, no shop, no post office, nothing there, just a church and, of course the main feature of the place, the field. It is a beautiful field - gorgeous.”
Undoubtedly the bit of silverware winning the Cork Premier Intermediate Championship was a landmark occasion, but Cill na Martra really means something to Evans. “That is what impresses you in any walk of life, the values people have,” Evans remarks.
“When I met Gearóid Ó Healaithe and Tomás Ó Murchú, that is what they had. They had honesty.
“They were just honest in their talk with great values, they were solid in what they said. You can do all the interviews you like in the world, but if you have those, you are going places.”
Football has brought Evans to different places at every level of the game. Good days at club and county; other times when lessons were learned in defeats and setbacks.
Evans has adapted to new ways and methods, but his coaching principles stay the same. For Evans football is chiefly about space and pace. “With technology over the last 20 years you have to do a lot more research and preparation,” Evans says.
“There is no doubt about that, but the game is as simple as it is. One thing I'm known for is I don't use, cones, or poles, I try to teach guys spatial awareness and pace and moving the ball. That has paid dividends for me all along.
“If you’ve to tell a fella that you have to go from that cone to that cone and that pole to that pole, you aren't giving them much choice. You can give the players information, but certainly you give them the freedom in making the decision themselves.”
The approach is still serving Evans well. Peil agus paisean i gcónaí.