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'I look at other guys who have won medals and think 'if he can do it I can definitely do it''

Scott Evans begins his eighth European Championships campaign later today, and the three-time Olympian has never been in a better frame of mind to win a first major medal.

AWAY FROM THE spotlight of an Olympic year, and a return to relative anonymity, these are the weeks which will ultimately define the career of Scott Evans.

When all is said and done, Ireland’s leading badminton player will be widely remembered for what he did in Rio, and rightly so, but life outside the Olympics is an isolated, and largely unrecognised, existence of hard graft.

Scott Evans Evans' first round game is tonight at 6pm Irish time. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Following his historic Olympic campaign last August, during which he become the first Irish player to win a match at the Games, Evans’ profile soared but the reality is that the interest in badminton only peaks and troughs every four years.

It means his results at this week’s European Championships in Denmark will largely go unnoticed back home, unless he conjures another dazzling set of performances to push for a first major medal.

That is essentially the next step Evans is looking to make.

There has never really been any doubt surrounding the 29-year-old’s ability. He has cut it at the very top of the sport for the last 15 years, become a three-time Olympian and reached a high of 23rd in the world rankings. All of that is a significant achievement in itself.

But the Dubliner, who has based himself in Copenhagen since leaving school to chase his dream at 16, isn’t the type of guy who settles for what he’s got — and now Evans feels he’s in a better frame of mind than ever before to fully capitalise and have a medal to show for all the hard work and sacrifice.

Evans has never lacked confidence or the belief that he could one day get there and become a European or, indeed World Championship, medallist but Rio was naturally an important stepping stone.

“I’m at that next step, Rio played a big part in me getting to the next step in the mental side of it so having that and good solid training periods means I’m in the right frame of mind,” he tells The42.

Scott Evans thanks the fans after losing Evans reached the last 16 in Rio. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Physically I feel good and I’ve had a good two months in the build-up to this tournament but mentally I’ve improved a lot and Rio did that for me. I’m more confident now because I know what to do and know I can do and that has been an issue for me before.

“I’ve taken the learnings from Rio and put them into practice every single day. I would be quite bad at sticking to tactics and keeping my focus during games but the way I played in Rio has taught me a lot and I feel I’ve got a good grip on it now.

“It was the one thing that was very important for me to learn and I was just happy I was able to learn it in Rio in that situation because I’m able to take it on every day in training and work on it all the time.”

Evans, currently ranked 111th in the world, begins his eighth European Championship campaign later this evening against Croatian Zvonimir Durkinjak at the Sydbank Arena in Kolding.

It is essentially a home tournament for the former Wesley College student who was able to make the two-hour trip west from Copenhagen in his own car and work his schedule around his own needs rather than relying on tournament transport.

Evans will have support from the locals, too, although that will change if he manages to negotiate the first hurdle with Denmark’s fifth-seed Anders Antonsen waiting in the second round.

But Evans refuses to let himself get too far ahead of himself. Durkinjak, who has predominately been a doubles player throughout his career, will provide a stiff first assignment and he’s taking nothing for granted.

“I need to be ready mentally and have my tactics perfect to progress to the next round,” Evans continues.

“I’ve put in the hard work and feel good and that’s everything I can do. I’m looking forward to taking to the court, taking one step at a time and fighting until the end.

Scott Evans He heads into this week's tournament 111th in the world. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“But at the same time I’m really going to have to bring my best game. It has to be in the perfect state but one thing I’ve learned is focus on the small goals and that’s what I’m planning on doing. I’ve got a tricky game on Tuesday and I need to focus on that and not look any further because lose that and I’m going home.”

Home is Copenhagen, and it has been since Evans was the age of 16 when he left family, friends and school to give himself the best chance of staying afloat at the top level.

While the facilities are steadily improving in Ireland, badminton remains a minority sport here and although he’s contemplated returning home, Evans’ life is very much in Denmark.

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“I have thought about it [moving back to Dublin],” he admits. “And I really considered it after Rio as well, but it’s just not that easy to pack the bags and go and at the end of the day badminton for me is the most important thing.

“At the moment the training here is better than what I could get in Ireland but I have been back a number of times and I also plan to keep doing that in 2017.

“When I’ve been home I’ve done TV and radio shows and tried to get that publicity for myself and to raise the sport’s profile but that’s just one side to the sport. For me, the most important thing is my training and getting the best preparation in for weeks like this.”

Not only did Evans announce himself to the Irish sporting public with his eye-catching performances in Rio, but he just sent a little reminder to those above him that he is capable of reaching that next level.

He has shown it in glimpses down the years, not least in 2010 when he came agonisingly close to a European Championships medal but transpired to lose the second and third sets of his quarter-final tie, and now it’s just about putting it all together on the court; both physically and mentally.

Scott Evans Live streaming of Evans' match can be found here: https://www.laola1.tv/en-int/home/ Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I’ve been close before,” he says of getting across the line.

“I’ve looked at other players who I wouldn’t consider better than me or other players that have won medals and I think ‘if this guy can do it i can definitely can do it’ so I think that’s the next step for me, definitely.

“I’ve had some good results throughout my career in smaller tournaments than the Olympics and they don’t obviously get the same attention but I think guys know what I can do.

“They know and I know I’m a good player and I can produce some very good badminton and I’m feeling good. I’m confident and very much looking forward to it.”

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