McEvoy embarks on 'opportunity of a lifetime'


PAUL FITZPATRICK sat down with Sean McEvoy, who flies to the USA this week to take up a four-year soccer scholarship at Loyola University, Maryland.

When the call came, he already had his mind made up. When Sean McEvoy sat down with his parents, Laura and Padhraig, to consider the offer of a full soccer scholarship to Loyola University in Maryland, it wasn’t the longest conversation.

This was an opportunity that was just too good to turn down. Having earlier opted not to take up the chance of playing full-time in the UK in order to continue his studies, Virginia man McEvoy felt the time was right to head Stateside.

He flies today (Thursday) to the east coast of the United States. As you read this, he will possibly be in the air. Where the journey takes him from here, no-one knows - but the possibilities are endless.

“I’m looking forward to it, bit of a change but I’ll take it as it comes. I’m all for getting different experiences in your life. This will be a different experience, it’s going to be a big change but I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Sean told the Anglo-Celt this week.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to experience things out there. Even if I don’t like it, I can come back – I don’t want to be five or six years down the road saying I should have done this or I should have done that.”

The former Virginia College student, who turned 20 in June, has packed a lot into his sporting life so far, representing Cavan in Gaelic football at all levels up to senior, lining out for the Republic of Ireland up to U17 level and, last year, playing a starring role as Ramor United won the Senior Championship.

The journey from Ballyjamesduff to Baltimore began over a decade ago.

“I started in Ballyjamesduff because there was no soccer team in Virginia when I started playing soccer. I played in Ballyjamesduff for six or seven years and then when I got to around 14 or 15, I started thinking that I wanted to take it seriously enough. I went to St Kevin’s in Dublin and played there for three years I think.

“Then I went up to Ballinamallard and I was there for three years as well. I had a stint with Bray Wanderers as well and after the Gaelic season last year, I went back to Ballinamallard for half a season. So yeah, it’s been a bit of a journey.

“My debut for Ireland was at U15s against Holland, in Holland. It opened my eyes to different footballing cultures and how good other nationalities are at football. I also played against the Czech Republic and Norway and in the U17 European Championships, I played against Belgium, Czech Republic again and Greece.

“It was a really, really good experience, especially playing the Euros at home in Ireland, it was really good. All the international players are in academies, playing and training every single day. They’re in the gym most days as well. They’re going to be sharper on the ball, quicker, faster, but you just have to try and adapt to it and deal with it.”

Adapting and advancing, always. When his performances caught the attention of scouts across the water, he headed over and did well enough to be offered a two-year deal.

“I went to Watford on trial and I went to Portsmouth as well and got a two-year deal there. But I didn’t take it up because I was only in TY at the time and I wanted to finish off my studies in school.

“Funnily enough, I don’t regret it at all to be honest. If I took that, this opportunity to go to America wouldn’t have come about.

“You basically go over there and you’re their player for a week. You stay in digs or with lads who are on the team. You train every day with your age group and play a game at the weekend, and if they like you, they like you, they’ll get in contact with you after.

“You’re trying to impress but you don’t want to look like you’re doing too much. It’s a hard thing to do, you try to do the simple things right. If you do the simple things right and work hard, I think that’s what most managers want from you. That’s really what they’re looking for.

“I knew myself I had done well enough there and a few days later, they got in contact and offered me that deal. Me, Dad and Mam had a chat about it for a few days and came to the decision that I wasn’t going to go because I wanted to finish off school.

“I think I was a bit too young to go over. I know of lads who have gone over at that age and have come back two or three years later because they were too young going over. Lads come back and say that they went over too young. You need to be mature enough when you go over.”

In action against the Czech Republic in the European U17 Championships.

All along, he was balancing his soccer commitments with a burgeoning Gaelic career. In 2020, he was part of the extended Cavan senior panel, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.

“Mickey (Graham) just asked me. Obviously I had never been in with the Cavan senior panel so I just wanted to go and give it a try. I think when the U20 championship started, I went back down to the U20s. Obviously we were knocked out by Down and then I went back to Ramor for the rest of the league and then the championship.

“It was really good, even the strength and conditioning side of it. It opens your eyes to how good the county players are. I’d say you train more with the county than you do with soccer, there’s two sessions a week and then two gym sessions – it’s four or five times a week with the county, soccer is only three times a week max, two training sessions and a game at the weekend, that’s it.

“They’re all really welcoming, genuinely. They are, they take care of young lads when they’re in there.”

At the back of his mind, though, was the possibility of attending college in America. A call was put in and the ball was soon rolling.

“There’s a guy I know from up north, his Dad and himself have an agency that helps people get over to universities in America. I got in contact with them saying that I was interested to see would anything come from it. You send videos to him and he puts it into like a highlight reel.

“He sends that off to all the different universities and if they’re interested, they’ll contact you. You get on a Zoom call and if they like you, they’ll offer you something.

“I find it really weird as well, that they’re offering such a big deal just off video clips, that they’ve never seen me play in person. I think that’s mad the way they do that.

“I’m pretty sure they do their homework though as well, there’s more behind it than that.

“With Loyola I got a full scholarship. I also got a full scholarship from a different college as well. Me and Mam went over in January and it felt right, walking round the campus and meeting the team. They were all really nice and very welcoming.

“There’s an English lad and a Scottish lad there as well. There are all different nationalities, a few Brazilians, a few Mexicans, Americans and Canadians. There’s a variety.”

Pre-season begins on August 9 and will take three weeks. After that, it’s straight into it. Loyola are a Division 1 college, which is the highest standard there is in third level education in the country.

“The American lads have already been over there for a pre pre-season, just trying to get fit, but with VISAs and so on, the earliest I could go over was the beginning of August.

“The pre-season starts on the 9th and we have the first game of the season on August 26th and that runs all the way through to December. We have two games a week so it’s hectic schedule.

I’m going to Division 1, I’ve heard and looked at videos that it’s a very high level. Will I be expected to make the team straight away? I’ll just go over there and play and see what happens, I don’t know.

“The facilities are crazy. The stadium, the changing rooms, it’s top notch.

“They won the conference last year, then you go into the NCA tournament. There are 25 or 26 conferences in Division 1 and the winner and second-placed team goes into that tournament. That’s knock-out then, the season runs on then until mid-December.

“Then you have a Spring season as well but it’s not competitive.”

In American colleges, the academic side is equally important as the sporting one. Athletes who flunk exams will find themselves on the sidelines.

“You have to pass all your classes or do well enough in your classes in order to play. You have to maintain a certain GPA. I’ll be training every morning before I go to college, I’ll have two or three classes a day and then I’ll have the evening free to do homework or study.

“I will be studying psychology. It’s really different than college over here. You have 21 core curriculum courses that you have to study throughout your four years. If you cover those within your first two years, you can go and specialise in what you want to do. I can specialise in psychology for the last two years. I have to do Spanish, theology, a wide variety of things.

“It runs like a college over here in that you get breaks at Christmas, summer, Easter, Halloween and mid-term. I’ll be coming home at Christmas and summer.

“There have been lads on to me asking would I be staying out there for the summer to play some Gaelic with them but I’d rather come home for the summer.”

As a former stand-out basketballer, has he considered taking to the hardwood over there? The suggestion elicits a laugh.

“I think you’re only allowed to play one sport for the college. I think I’d be a bit small for basketball over there as well!”

That said, soccer is not his first love.

“It’s such a hard question to answer (which sport he prefers). Naturally I’d prefer Gaelic because I’ve been born and bred with Gaelic but soccer just gives you more opportunities. I’d prefer playing Gaelic, definitely.

“I like having the football in your hands, I think it’s a bit easier than playing soccer.”

There is no doubting his aptitude with the O’Neill’s Size 5. While there were no club All-Stars last year due to pandemic restrictions, had there been, he’d have been a shoo-in, with several outstanding performances for Ramor including numerous clutch interventions. The highlights?

“Coming back and beating Crosserlough in the first round. The semi-final against the Gaels as well, when they came back and then we kind of kicked on and beat them by a point. And obviously the final replay as well.

“It was unbelievable, I can’t even describe the feeling to be honest.Growing up watching Ramor play… It’s what every young kids dreams of, winning a championship for your club. Unbelievable.”

Was there pressure on the Ramor players last year? He shakes his head. Maybe for some of them…

“You don’t pay much heed to that, you just go out and play. When you’re my age, you just go out and play and enjoy it.”

That part of his life is on hold now as America beckons. In recent weeks, he has been back training with Ballinamallard, getting a little game time and working on fitness.

The McEvoys have a family friend not far away from Loyola who will be able to assist but Sean must go it alone for the most part, with help from college and teammates of course. It sounds daunting but he can’t wait.

“We have a friend over there who Mam and Dad are really friendly with, it’s not too bad, if I get into trouble I can call him!” he laughs.

“I don’t really get nervous, I’m laid back like that. I’ll just take it in my stride and see what happens.

“I just want to try and make a living out of soccer as best I can, wherever it takes me.”

So far, that’s quite a distance.