By Damian Dolan
Should Gavin McEvoy get the nod to start in goal against Galway at McGovern Park on Sunday, you can be sure he’ll take whatever happens on the pitch in his stride.
The Tir Chonaill Gaels man has already experienced the lowest point of his career – conceding seven goals on his championship debut against Galway in 2004 – and emerged the other side all the stronger for the experience.
Having been London’s back up ‘keeper throughout that year’s league campaign – he made his debut against Clare in Round 7 – he suddenly found himself drafted into the starting line up by then manager John McPartland to face Pádraic Joyce, Michael Donnellan et al as a mere a 20-year-old.
Galway won 8-14 to 0-8 with McEvoy replaced late on.
For McEvoy, Sunday will be the chance to right a few wrongs from that Ruislip day 15 years ago.
“I don’t feel I did myself justice. I’m 15 years older and 15 years wiser,” he told the Irish World. “I didn’t want it to be…..that’s the Gavin McEvoy who played against Galway.
“My parents were there that day and good friends of mine, whose parents are Galway natives, so I’d like to put a better showing in than the last time.”
McEvoy, whose parents are from Wexford, had been drafted into the panel by McPartland along with fellow home-grown player Pat Lynott of St Clarets.
While McEvoy recalls Lynott making a big impression in the league – their only win came against Carlow – McEvoy was back-up to James Kinahan of Round Towers, until he moved home at short notice.
“I trained all through the national league, did all of the travelling and all of the sessions, but never with the intention of playing any football,” said McEvoy, who’ll turn 35 the day after the London-Galway game (6 May).
But Kinahan wasn’t the only one to exit before Galway rolled into town.
Paddy Connolly, Ollie Fitzgerald, Colm Foody and Paul Hehir all headed to Chicago for the summer, and Martin Donaghy to New York.
James Carmody returned to Ireland, while injury also robbed McPartland of Senan Hehir, JP O’Donnell and Hugh Cunningham. Far from ideal preparation.
Indeed, London fielded just two survivors from the team which had faced Sligo the previous year.
“We didn’t have any challenge games or anything like the preparation that the teams have now,” added McEvoy.
“Galway was very much the first time that 15 had gone out competitively. It was always going to be tough, but it led to a poor showing.”
McPartland brought in Parnells goalkeeper and Galwayman Michael Lillis, but it was McEvoy who got the nod to start.
“McPartland said ‘Gavin’s done all the training, we’ll stick him in’. I was delighted that they put faith in me, rather than parachute a goalkeeper in from a club who was more experienced,” said McEvoy.
What followed was “shocking” though as London were routed, with McEvoy conceding he had an “up and down” game and that with hindsight he “wasn’t ready” for inter-county football.
“I made a couple of saves, I made a couple of errors and I cost a goal myself,” he recalled.
“It was tough at the time but looking back it was the making of me. I learnt a lot that day and I’ve been fairly thick-skinned ever since.
“It was definitely the toughest game of football I’ve played, due to my lack of experience and the quality of the opposition.
“We didn’t have the set-up or the shape to trouble someone as good as Galway. They were serious operators and Pádraic Joyce is one of the best-ever to play for Galway. They were in their pomp.”
After Galway’s hammering, it was Lillis who started the qualifier against Dublin at Parnell Park.
Little did McEvoy know that it would be another 12 years before he started another championship game for London, against Mayo in 2016.
The likes of fellow TCG man Brian McBrearty, Declan Traynor, Evan Byrne, Adrian Flaherty and Paul O’Dowd blocked his path.
“I didn’t dream it would be 12 years before I’d play again – I genuinely thought I was good enough and I was going to get another go. But it didn’t work out that way,” said McEvoy, who also started against Leitrim in 2017 and Sligo last year.
If selected, Sunday will be a shot at redemption 15 years in the making. But regardless of what happens, McEvoy will treat Rudyard Kipling’s ‘two impostors just the same’.
Galway 8-14 London 0-8
Connacht SFC Quarter-Final
Sunday 30th May, 2004
SCORERS – Galway: P Joyce 2-3 (0-1f), M Donnellan, J Bergin 2-1 each, J Devane, N Joyce 0-3 each, T Joyce, M Meehan 1-0 each, S de Paor, S O’Domhnaill, M Clancy 0-1 each. London: S Doran 0-3, F McMahon 0-2 (2f), G Kane, D Kineavey, G Weldon 0-1 each.
GALWAY – B O’Donoghue; B Dooney, K Fitzgerald, C Monaghan; D Meehan, P Clancy, S de Paor; J Bergin, S Ó Domhnaill; T Joyce, M Donnellan, J Devane; M Meehan, P Joyce, N Joyce. Subs: M Clancy for T Joyce, D Savage for Devane, M Comer for Monaghan, N Meehan for Donnellan, D Burke for de Paor.
LONDON – G McEvoy; C Harrison, D McKenna, S Murphy; A McLarnon, J Niblock, K Scanlon; G Kane, P Quinn; S Doran, F McMahon, B Egan; P Lynott, D Kineavey, B McDonagh. Subs: G Weldon for McDonagh, S Byrnes for Lynott, M Drea for Murphy, M Lillis for McEvoy, T Ó hAilpín.
REFEREE – J White (Donegal).