Three years ago Mikey Bevans gave a presentation at a coaching seminar hosted by the Tipperary County Board.
By then his partnership with Liam Cahill had yielded three underage All-Irelands for Tipp, and as part of their further education they had accepted a term in Waterford, like an extended Erasmus.
Bevans spoke passionately about his experiences as a coach, and the “massive fear” he felt when Upperchurch Drombane cold-called him, wondering if he would train their senior team, more than 10 years ago now.
“I couldn’t see myself doing it,” he said. “But whatever kicked in . . . something sparked in me. After the very first training session, I was obsessed.”
At one point in the presentation he tried to explain himself. Without using the word, what he described was authenticity.
“It’s very important to be yourself,” he said. “That’s one thing that gives me confidence. I’m not trying to be anybody else. This is me, as a coach, or as a person, in front of a group. I can relax when I have that thought process.”
Cahill and Bevans have been shaping teams together since 2015, and whatever they gained and adapted along the way, their signature design was unchanged. All of the teams in their creation are dog-fit, united, hard-nosed and ravenous for goals. The principles Bevans teaches as a coach were the pillars of his game as a player. One is a distillation of the other.
“His teams play the way he did,” says Eoin Brislane, the former Tipperary player, and Toomevara club-mate of Bevans. “Full of imagination, full of drive, always looking for goals. He had such vision and such a brain for the game. If you made a run, he’d find you.
“He was the smallest man on the field but the man with the biggest heart. Mikey would go into tackles that nobody else would go into. He took fierce punishment. He won more games for us by winning frees, by putting himself in positions where he knew he was going to be taken out. He always put his body on the line.”
The quick success they enjoyed with Tipp – reaching the 2015 All-Ireland minor final in their first season together and winning the title a year later – deepened their convictions. When they reached a senior All-Ireland final in their first season with Waterford in 2020, their beliefs were confirmed again, if they had any doubt. Losing badly in the final to one of the greatest teams of the modern age didn’t disturb their thinking.
“Mikey was very strong on his philosophy,” says Martin Bennett, a sprint and fitness coach who worked with Cahill and Bevans during their three years in Waterford.
“I remember asking him after Limerick beat us in the first year what were we going to do and he said: ‘We won’t start to think about Limerick until we produce our own best first’. I thought that was very strong.
“When he rang me the following year to go in with them again his words to me were, ‘We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I still really believe in what we do’.”
Bevans’s sessions are designed to attack players’ limits. A few years ago, when he was manager of Tipp underage teams, Cahill said he had no desire to send “soft” players through the system. Toughness is another of their core beliefs. The former Waterford captain Stephen Molumphy was part of their management team in 2020, and he stated their attitude, plainly: “If you’re hurt, get up. Don’t mind the referee, just get up”.
Kevin Moran was coming towards the end of his long career when Cahill and Bevans arrived in Waterford, and he stayed on board for two years. Pain was fed to the players, like a supplement.
“It was savage,” he said about the training after he retired. “If you’re doing 20 or 30 of those training sessions in the first few months of the year you’re getting so used to it every night that the matches then nearly become easier than the training sessions. It was phenomenal.”
At the coaching seminar three years ago, Bevans illustrated a couple of his work-rate drills. In one of them, two players must sprint, flat-out, for 30 seconds, and then try to dispossess four fresh players in a condensed space.
“It’s great to get players to empty themselves,” he said, “and understand what work rate feels like – and taste it in their mouth.”
All of that intensity and ferocity creates its own energy. During their time in Waterford they introduced boxing to the training sessions under Bennett’s supervision. Pads and gloves would be brought on to the field and every player would do a couple of one-minute rounds, unloading their aggression on the pads.
“You’d want to be in the whole of your health to get through the training sessions,” says Bennett. “It’s very passionate and very driven. It just becomes infectious and it leads to a frenzy. They’re so big into taking your man on. Carrying the ball. Everything about them is aggressive. The way they speak, the way they get the team to play. It’s just in your face. It’s an environment you’d love being in. You feel invigorated. It’s hard to sleep when you go home.”
Their paths first crossed on Tipperary age-grade teams in the mid-1990s: Bevans was a wispy corner forward with spindly legs, a ponytail and deadly skill. Cahill was a child star, who won an All Star as a teenager in his breakthrough season with the Tipp seniors in 1996. In the end, no season was better than his first. Bevans won Fitzgibbon Cups with WIT alongside a host of future intercounty stars, but that path never materialised for him.
“Mikey was unfortunate,” says Brislane. “I always felt he deserved more of an opportunity with Tipp. If Mikey was in Cork he would definitely have got on the Cork team at the time because he was in the same mould as Joe Deane and Ben O’Connor – that type of player. Tipp were more a traditional, physical, ball-winning team.”
In management, Cahill and Bevans found another arena for their talents. In Tipp, they chaperoned two waves of hugely talented young players and led them to three All-Irelands. Jerome Cahill played on all of those teams.
“They definitely pushed us to be the best we could be,” he says. “At times you maybe felt they were hard on you. When you look back you can see they were right in what they were saying – even if at the time you might have felt a bit different. In the long run they had your best interests at heart.”
It didn’t end well for them in Waterford. Six weeks after winning the league final last year they lost to Cork in Walsh Park in the Munster championship and their season unravelled, suddenly and fiercely. There were no protests from the players when Cahill and Bevans walked away. Something had snapped.
“Mentally, the wheels came off for the last game against Clare,” says Bennett. “I can’t put my finger on why. Some people said the training caught up with the Waterford players after three years, but I don’t think it caught up with them out of the blue like that.”
Tipp were in need of a reboot. The material was there. For the opening round of the championship against Clare, 10 of the players on the Tipp panel had won underage All-Irelands with Cahill and Bevans.
Among their proteges is Jake Morris. When his underage career finished with Tipp, Morris described Cahill and Bevans as “father figures”. As a player, he epitomised everything Cahill and Bevans aspired their forwards to be: direct, hard-running, hungry for goals.
Tipp were the top goalscorers in Division One of the league this spring with 14; five of them were scored by Morris, the leading goalscorer in the competition. Against Clare in the championship a fortnight ago he added two more. It has already been the best season of his senior career. It is no coincidence.
For Cahill and Bevans this is their ninth season together. At the root of everything is their friendship.
“The boys are very tight,” says Bennett. “Every word that comes out of their mouths complements what the other said. There’s never cross messages. They’re the same mind, different voices. You can see the friendship a mile away. Liam absolutely trusts Mikey. Mikey is his general.”
With them, Tipp have a chance again.