Mick O’Dwyer admitted that Kerry’s last-gasp, 1982 All-Ireland final defeat to Offaly still haunts him and he contemplates the setback at least once a week, writes John Fogarty.
The RTÉ documentary, Micko, screened tonight at 9.35pm, chronicles the Waterville man’s life and footballer career. In it, O’Dwyer says the defeat which denied the five in a row is “implanted in my mind”.
"I'm totally addicted to the game... I'll keep at it until I go into the grave"
'Micko' - Watch the new documentary on the life of the Kerry great on RTÉ One on Monday 8th January, 9.35pm pic.twitter.com/uMW55UT9mq— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) January 4, 2018
The 82-year-old, who reveals there are days when he is unable to speak, due to old age, was depressed for days following Seamus Darby’s goal.
“A little nudge made history,” he said of Darby’s push on Tommy Doyle to claim the ball. “If you were well beaten, you’d be happy enough. I mean, we were so close. I was sick. For two months after, I never left Waterville. I stayed in the house, put the tape (of the game) on, had a look at it and just saying to myself, ‘Pity we didn’t do this, pity we didn’t do that’. It’s like a death in the family, if that’s possible. I think of it at least once a week. It would still be implanted in my mind.”
The documentary carries footage of O’Dwyer addressing Kerry supporters at the 1981 All-Ireland winning homecoming, which crowned the four-in-a-row, and saying that they “have seen nothing yet — it’s only the start”.
He was to be proven correct, in a way, with the three-in-a-row, between 1984 and ’86, still to come, and he regards the golden years as this period of the best-ever Gaelic football team. Describing the 1978 final win over Dublin as “one of the greatest days of my life” and Mikey Sheehy’s chipped goal as one which “changed the history of Kerry football”, O’Dwyer remarks: “We could say to people that now we’ve done it (beat Dublin), and it was amazing what happened after.
“Every time we went to play a game, we were nearly guaranteed to win. We never thought about defeat. We never looked at the other teams we met down along the line. We had 20 players who were good enough to win All-Irelands, playing a style of football that nobody could match. At one stage, I never even thought about it; it was just another All-Ireland coming and I wasn’t counting.
“I’ve been around over 80 years now and I’ve seen a lot of players in my time and 15 of those men that were on the field together, I don’t believe you could get better at any period, at any time. It wasn’t because I was managing; it was because they were the best.”
O’Dwyer has some criticism for his admittedly young 1975 All-Ireland winners, the team he trained over 27 consecutive nights, as they bade to defend their title the following season.
“Our fellas got a little bit lost. The Rose of Tralee was in full swing and I think they were dabbling in some of the niceties.”
On his own illustrious playing career, O’Dwyer has no hesitation in describing himself as “a marvellous fielder of the ball” and “when I played as a forward, I was very accurate”.
Of the criticism he received from some team-mates, he scoffs: “The players that played around me told me that I was a very selfish player. Like (Pat) Spillane, I would tell them, ‘Why should I be giving it to ye, when I can score myself?’ I was top-scorer in Ireland for two years in succession.”
On his time with Kildare, he maintains the hype prior to the 1998 All-Ireland final, against Galway, affected the players, and he insists he was correct not to give into the players in Laois, when they looked for a change in his approach.
“Instead of changing it, I left,” he recalls. “They got change; it didn’t take them any further. They haven’t won since.”
In an often moving and jovial production (O’Dwyer saluting the statue built in his honour in Waterville is a poignant, yet roguish moment), the 12-time All-Ireland winner describes how he misses his wife, Mary Carmel, who passed away in 2012.
“My God, you’d miss somebody like that, that was always there. No matter where you travelled, she was there when you came home.”
He bemoans his maturing years, his withered left hand, which has deprived him of playing the accordion and golf (“I could still catch a high ball, if it was coming”) and his weakening speech — “I was an awful man for roaring and shouting and encouraging players on the pitch. It’s the one thing that affects me quite a bit.
“It comes and goes, some days I can’t speak at all, at all.”
O’Dwyer’s last managerial experience was three years ago, when he led a Waterville U14 side to a South Kerry Division 4 title.
His affection for the game remains undimmed. “I’d like to be on the sideline, watching, or in the stand, and drop dead. That’s the way I would like it to happen. I’d be quite happy if that happened. But not yet, I hope, for another while, anyway.”
Micko will be broadcast on RTÉ 1 tonight at 9.35pm.
This story was first published in Examiner Sport on January 4.