MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Modern managers could take leaf out of Micko’s book

Mick O'Dwyer.

You watched the Mick O’Dwyer documentary. Of course you watched it. The entire country did and fell in love with Micko all over again.

The fade! The roguery! The Hans Zimmer music at the end that made middle-aged men all over Ireland rush out suddenly to make another cup of tea! And more roguery!

Loosehorse, the production company which served up the programme, deserves huge praise - they conveyed O’Dwyer’s charisma and personality over a span of 50 years and opened a gusher of O’Dwyer anecdotes which has flowed unceasingly since.

(I even have half an anecdote myself: an acquaintance of mine has never eaten beef after 6pm following an All-Star dinner taken alongside O’Dwyer many years ago.

The Kerryman said he was going for the fish option “because that meat would be sitting rotting in your belly all night.” Mick O’Dwyer, dietitian.)

The producers also deserve credit, however, for making a parallel commentary on the modern GAA.

If you had eyes to see then there was an entirely different programme running alongside the shots of Micko saluting his statue, a programme which obliquely raised some of the GAA’s most significant challenges.

Item: currently there is a good deal of agonising about the need (or not) for the GAA to have a new director-general with a business background, even if much of that agonising is no more than a reasonable re-enactment of the old saw about horses and stable doors.

In the O’Dwyer documentary we saw one of the first glimpses of that horse coming out, the famous Bendix washing machine ad, when O’Dwyer’s Kerry team stood around said appliance for a photograph which ran on the morning of the 1985 All-Ireland football final.

It’s filed in the high jinks drawer of the filing cabinet. Those rogues in Kerry, you couldn’t be up to them.

It should, however, serve as a sharp reminder to those harking back to a golden age when the GAA was just about lads turning up to line the pitch and puffing a few Woodbine before lording it in the middle of the field.

Money wasn’t a concern for those buckos. It was all about the game.

Au contraire. Over 30 years ago there were GAA teams and personalities with a keen idea of their worth and value, monetising those just as some of our current hurling and football influencers do.

It’s fair to say that the latter group would be surprised if they were held up as examples of all that is wonderful about the association, though.

Item: during the documentary O’Dwyer mentioned in passing that Kerry had trained 27 nights without a break in the run-up to the All-Ireland final against Dublin in 1975.

To give that some context, it’s generally acknowledged that Dublin under Kevin Heffernan had raised the stakes in terms of physical training as they won the ’74 title, and other counties had to improve themselves to compete with the Dubs.

Kerry matched them on that front, even if the methods applied would make modern strength and conditioning coaches lie down in a dark room.

Still, bear that in mind when contemplating the constant rumble of debate centering on the imbalance between the number of training sessions and matches and players complaining - as Kieran Bergin of Tipperary did recently - about an endless physical grind of training and deprivation.

Blaming Heffernan or O’Dwyer for introducing rigorous physical conditioning misses the point. It was inevitable. If they hadn’t raised the bar somebody else would have, possibly one of the graduates from the then-new Thomond College.

But again, it helps to illustrate that there are no new arguments in the GAA, just old ones that are repurposed at a higher volume. Or, to be more accurate, new ones which simply don’t take account of the past.

The only pity - for this observer - is that more modern managers wouldn’t adopt another of O’Dwyer’s traits, one which didn’t get much airplay last Monday night.

The Kerryman treated his players as grown-ups. Not something everyone wearing a bainisteoir bib can say these days, and in its own way that’s another GAA challenge.


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