Micko: Time for a rest

WHEN it ended, Mick O’Dwyer simply curled his match programme that bit tighter, took off his woolly hat and marched head down towards the dressing-room.

There was no loitering, no salute to the crowd. No pause to capture the moment for posterity.

It didn’t feel right that his five years spent managing Wicklow — and a grand total of 36 seasons spent patrolling sidelines up and down the country — should end like that, with the great man departing the stage almost unnoticed.

And yet, what did we expect? That he would have been carried from the arena shoulder-high, feted by the capacity 6,000 crowd? That would hardly have sat too well with a man so used to success and so soon after a defeat.

That same reluctance to tarry framed his interview with the media afterwards.

It amounted to just a handful of snatched queries before he turned on his heels — more than enough time for the old rogue to muddy the waters of his supposed retirement plans.

“It would be pretty hard to leave football, no doubt,” he said, despite past assurances that 2011 would be his swansong.

“I’m going to take a good rest and think about it and I’ll let ye know then.

“I’ve plenty of time, I can watch games now.

“Of course, you have to be a bit mad to be involved, as you know.

And I am a bit mad and that’s the reason why I am in it and as long as the legs and the body will work for me I’ll keep going. You never know.”

You wouldn’t put it past him either. You wouldn’t blink if he gave it another season with Wicklow or popped up in some other outpost during the off-season, but the impression remains that this was indeed his curtain call.

It would be a disappointing way for it to end, with his first championship defeat under the watchful eye of Croghan Mountain which has seen Fermanagh, Cavan, Down and Sligo come a cropper during the Kerryman’s residency.

In a way, those scalps worked against them on Saturday.

No-one expected Wicklow to snaffle a draw up north last week but that coin flipped second time around thanks to Aughrim’s reputation and the understandable desire to delay O’Dwyer’s departure, all of which turned the focus on them.

Their hopes and ambitions were fired still further 15 minutes before the throw-in when James Stafford, the midfielder who dragged them to parity last week, was named to start despite the ankle injury suffered in training some days earlier.

Armagh’s luck was less kind with centre-back Ciarán McKeever and half-forward Brian Mallon ruled out after late fitness tests and the game was less than 60 seconds old when a bruising shoulder from Stephen Kelly left Steven McDonnell on the turf.

Wicklow enjoyed their moments and had spells in each half when they threatened to go on the sort of roll that would galvanise the crowd but both swells receded on the back of well-timed goals from Jamie Clarke.

Both owed their origins to long balls played in the direction of Malachy Mackin and required sizeable chunks of good fortune before Clarke could find the net but their worth was far more important than any aesthetic value. Mackin ended the game with a defensive shift on his own half-back line but he played the majority of it at full-forward with Steven McDonnell withdrawn to the unfamiliar environs of the half-forward line where he acted as creator.

Paddy O’Rourke first landed on that idea during the draw the week before but Armagh continue to pile up the wides like unwanted parking tickets. They managed 15 here but then Wicklow had their own problems in that department.

Not only that, when they look back on this one they will realise – as O’Dwyer did immediately – that they panicked after Clarke’s second goal in the 45th minute and tried to land the haymakers too often and too soon.

“We fought to the very, very end,” said O’Dwyer. “We got five frees there in the finish and we missed the five of them. Then we went for two goals when points could have been taken as well.

“That was the only difference between the two teams on the day. They were a little bit sharper than we were but overall if we had taken our chances … the frees especially. You cannot afford to miss five frees and win a game.”

A frustrating last act, maybe, but what a body of work.

Scorers for Wicklow: T Hannon (0-3 frees); P Earls (0-2); L Glynn (0-2); S Furlong (0-2, 1 free); A O’Malley (0-1).

Scorers for Armagh: J Clarke (2-2); M O’Rourke (0-2); S McDonnell (0-2, 1 free); P Duffy (0-1); A Kernan (0-1 free): G McParland (0-1).

Subs for Wicklow: C McGregor for Mernagh (20); P Dalton for McLoughlin (54).

Subs for Armagh: BJ Padden for Hanratty (52); G McParland for T Kernan (58); D McKenna for Duffy (52); V Martin for Moriarty (63); C Watters for O’Rourke (70).

Referee: R Hickey (Clare).

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