AFTER the year he’s had – or hasn’t had – it’s unsurprising that Corry Evans is a footballing Martini man, prepared to play any time, any place, anywhere.
Yet even he isn’t relishing the prospect of facing Romania behind closed doors as the second edition of the Uefa Nations League kicks off amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
The Blackburn Rovers midfielder sustained a fractured skull and a shattered eye socket after a high boot to his head in a Championship match against Preston in January.
Then, having battled his way back to fitness for the June re-start, Evans scored and was ‘man of the match’ in a 3-1 victory against Bristol City – only to discover that he had fractured his big toe during the game.
“Obviously it’s been a difficult year for myself,” he said, “and it didn’t help with the whole pandemic going on. Thankfully the surgeon did a great job and I’m back on the pitch doing what I love.
“It was just as I was beginning my rehab back on the grass that we got into lockdown so it disrupted it in that way. I had to keep myself ticking over at home, which is always difficult.
“But I was determined to get back and I did get back and play in the first game after the re-start – and then broke my toe in that game, so that finished the rest of my season, unfortunately.
“I’m back now, feeling good again, and hopefully I can have a bit more luck now.”
One might expect 30-year-old Evans to be wary about international travel, with coronavirus still a risk, but he says:
“Personally I’m not worried, no. I’m looking forward to the game. I’ve only played one match this season, the whole year, so I’m looking forward to getting back on the pitch, especially for Northern Ireland. The last game we played was Germany, I think in November.
“It’s nice to get back and see all the lads and the new manager – we’re all looking forward to it.
“It’s always exciting when a new manager comes in, bit of the unknown – but I’ve known Ian [Baraclough] from his time with the 21s, he was with the senior squad a few times. He’s been around, the lads know him, the younger boys in the squad know him from the 21s. It’s been good so far, everyone’s enjoying it.”
Having said all that, Corry doesn’t think Friday night’s game in Bucharest will be a great occasion, recalling a similar previous experience in Belgrade almost a decade ago – although even then there were 240 visiting fans allowed in for that March 2011 match while hosts Serbia were punished for crowd violence at a game in Italy:
“It’s not enjoyable for anyone, I really think we would all prefer the fans but it’s just not to be. In my personal experience the only other game behind closed doors was Serbia away when Nigel Worthington was manager. We had a taste of it then, and there’s a few of us who know about that international-wise. We’ve just got to get on with it and try and get three points.
“It’s just strange, it’s almost like being in a reserve game. There are very little fans at reserve games and you can hear all the coaches and the managers trying to explain to you what they want.
“When tensions are high in games with crowds, in hostile environments, it can be very hard to hear instructions from the managers. With the restart after lockdown players are obviously used to it a bit more, having had a taste of playing without fans.”
* International colleague Craig Cathcart certainly will have no problem adjusting to a new boss, given that he’s a Watford player, commenting: “I think it’ll be quite easy for me because it has happened so much at club level.
“We’ve known Ian for a while, he’s been in a few squads with us and taken a few sessions before so we know he is a good coach and has good ideas.
“It’s not a major change and obviously he has the experience of working with the U21s and will know which lads are ready to push to the first team and hopefully make us better.
“Nothing much has changed, but I’m sure there’ll be little changes he’ll make as the games start coming.”
The 31-year-old is content to stay in the Northern Ireland ‘bubble’, here and in Romania, explaining: “We’ve been told it works out better for everybody if we are in the hotel together. I can think of a lot worse people to be stuck in a hotel with.
“We all get in really well and haven’t seen each other in so long and we’re enjoying seeing each other again.
“We could be in a worse hotel than the Culloden, too, so we haven’t got too much to complain about.”
— to www.irishnews.com