AFTER 55 consecutive seasons of involvement with Championship football, you think we might have cottoned onto Mick O’Dwyer’s capacity to amaze.
He’s been around the Big Top longer than Coco, we’ve seen his three-card trick a gazillion times. But even though he’s done us again, everyone’s smiling, save Kildare.
Wicklow’s historic Croke Park defeat of the Lilywhites yesterday achieved the Championship lift-off the publicists and shiny new sponsors were looking for, but it also edged the man closer to the retirement he deserves.
No-one wants to see Dwyer — as his confidantes call him — bid an indignant or less-than-graceful farewell to the arenas he has speckled with good football manners since first representing Kerry in 1954.
But we always fear it will happen because this is a man who can’t let go of that rolled-up match programme; an addict who won’t give up on the white dust of the sideline.
After last season’s Tommy Murphy Cup triumph for Wicklow at headquarters, Micko took unwell and had corrective cardiac surgery with stents. Earlier this year, he had a hip operation in Waterford. To most people, these are opportune indicators but not to the man driving back from a post match meal last night in Wicklow’s Glenview Hotel, savouring Wicklow’s first ever Championship success at Croke Park.
“I’ve a sore bloody ankle but apart from that my health has never been better. I never gave the slightest thought to it approaching this season. The doctors gave me the all clear and I was up walking (gingerly) the day after Tadgh O’Sullivan did the hip in January.”
Eighteen months ago, O’Dwyer rang a friend to confide in him that he was thinking of closing his career circle in the unlikely surroundings of Aughrim and Baltinglass. Most thought he’d eaten one slice of fruit cake too many.
“They’re fierce GAA people, and we’ve had an unbelievable effort from the players,” he reflected last night after the stunning 0-13 to 0-9 Leinster SFC victory over Kildare. “The key moment was winning the Tommy Murphy Cup last year. That gave us something to believe in. The only target I set myself eighteen months ago was that I’d seek to improve Wicklow football. We were the 31st rated team in the country at the time.
“I knew we had a good level of fitness and over the past number of months, we’ve done a lot of football work, but there was one bookie in Baltinglass who was giving 7/1 on us yesterday. Maybe there’ll be a few more believers now.”
Explained the maestro: “Last October we made the decision to concentrate on May 18th. Leagues and O’Byrne Cups have all been secondary to me through the years. I don’t take much interest in leagues but you have to play in them to get a team ready.”
Leighton Glynn focused a shaft of light on O’Dwyer’s dressing room magic afterwards. At the interval there was concern that Wicklow were only level despite dominating much of the play and most of the scoring chances.
“Micko had a word at half time. He didn’t press any panic buttons. He’s a good character.”
Colleague Tony Hannon wasn’t about to deny plaudits to the inexhaustible Kerryman.
“The enthusiasm he brings is infectious. He loves the long summer nights. Everyone is delighted to be there but nobody more than him. We’ll be looking to win the next time too even though the surprise factor is gone. You guys can write us off as massive underdogs again and that will suit us.”
Next time it’s Laois, another of the Master’s past pupils, on Saturday week in Carlow, of all places. O’Dwyer is already agitating for a return to headquarters. “What are they keeping it polished for? This game should have been in headquarters, and that’s nothing against Dr Cullen Park. We’re trying to keep our players from drifting to other codes, and yet we’ll watch other games being played there, and we can’t. What’s that about?”
“We’ll have to improve. Laois are a very good side but things are very good in Wicklow and if we can get the young people playing and following that is important. It’s about the next generation, but we’ll do our best for now.”
He has nothing to prove, but he invents compelling reasons to challenge himself with any apparatus available, including perceived little digs at his methodology. He won’t say it but seeing off a side trained by one of the bright young things of the GAA, Kieran McGeeney with the old virtues of football and fitness will have pleased him, albeit quietly.
There won’t be many more days like yesterday for Mick O’Dwyer and with the safety net format, there are too few magic days for the minnows in the modern-day Championship.
Let’s savour both.
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