54 years ago he played his first National Football League game with his native Kerry, yet there he was in Cusack Park, Ennis, yesterday, still in track suit, still as enthusiastic as ever for a game he loves beyond reason.
After a hugely successful career as a player, Micko went on to an even more successful career as manager. First off he led Kerry to eight All-Ireland titles, before successful spells with Kildare and Laois before hitching up with his latest project, Wicklow.
Last year, in a run never before experienced in the Garden County, Wicklow won their first championship game in Croke Park, went on to knock out three Ulster teams before eventually bowing out to Kildare, just before the quarter-final series.
A Gaelic football messiah then, though his magic didn’t quite work out yesterday, in this first-round Division Four NFL encounter with Clare coming back from an 0-9 to 0-2 deficit with just 30 minutes to go on to win by the narrowest of margins.
“It was a tough one to lose,” O’Dwyer admitted, “There was indiscipline on the part of some of our players – we had won a free, there was retaliation and the referee decided to hop the ball. From that they got the goal and they got a point from the same kind of thing. Further down the field the same thing happened but he didn’t hop the ball at all – those are the little kind of things that make a difference in a tight game.”
Ironic, that, indiscipline cost his team the points, because if there’s any one outstanding characteristic that has always been a hallmark of a Mick O’Dwyer team, it’s discipline. Work hard, play the ball, don’t give away needless frees, don’t get into trouble with the officials – be honest. That’s been his mantra down the decades.
“I do try to get them to play an honest game, get them to play the ball at all times, that’s most important, and that’s the way I’m going to continue.”
It wasn’t just Wicklow indiscipline, of course, it was also a great show of heart by Clare to come back from such a deficit. They were inspired from the back by goalkeeper Joe Hayes, who made a number of outstanding interventions, while outside him the full-back line of Gordon Kelly, Barry Duggan and Dean Ryan also stood out.
They had some crucial ‘marks’ at vital times in midfield by towering Ger Quinlan, while David Russell and David Tubridy were prominent up front along with all-action corner-forward Gearóid Lynch who touched home the goal. Never-say-die effort from them, then, and worthy winners in the end.
Never-say-die from O’Dwyer either, who was as enthusiastic as ever on the sidelines.
“November 56 it started at senior level with my first league match. It was a long time ago but I enjoy every moment of it – even that game today. I got as much of a kick out of that as I would managing any team in the country.
“It was great, tight and close, a good test for players as well. I’ve had so many good times, so many bad times; the best was winning my first All-Ireland in 1959. Coming from Waterville, a little place nestled away down in the west of Kerry, to win an All-Ireland – that wasn’t too bad. Winning your first, whether player or manager, is always the one, but as a manager – the All-Ireland final of 78, that was the one, coming back to beat the Dubs.
“But looking back at last year, we had some wonderful games in the championship, we got great enjoyment from that – that’s what keeps you going. It’s not all about winning, it’s about preparing teams and having them playing to the best of their ability. Take today, that was a game we could have won, lost it by a point, but I was delighted with the players, they gave wonderful commitment – you can’t ask any more than that from players.”
Scorers for Clare: D Tubridy 0-5 (0-4 frees); G Lynch 1-0; L Healy 0-2; A Clohessy, D Russell, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Wicklow: T Hannon 0-6 (0-4 frees, 0-1 45); L Glynn 0-2; S Furlong, P Cunningham, P McWalter, 0-1 each.
CLARE: J Hayes; G Kelly (capt), B Duggan, D Ryan; G Kelly, M Tubridy, B Cummins; G Quinlan, L Healy; G Brennan, D Tubridy, D Russell; A Clohessy, P Reidy, G Lynch.
Subs: S Kinnevan (Reidy 30); C Dunning (Healy 65).
WICKLOW: M Travers; C Hyland, S Kelly, A Byrne; P McWalter, B McGrath, D Hayden; J Stafford, JP Dalton; L Glynn, T Hannon, P Cunningham; P Earls, S Furlong, C Jones
Sub: D Odlum (Earls 52).
Referee: M Meede (Limerick).