When Harry met Wicklow

Wilf McGuinness never stood a chance.

Becoming manager of Manchester United was a cherished dream but the experience turned sour very quickly as he found succeeding the legendary Matt Busby impossible.

Closer to home, the facts show anyone taking on a Bainisteoir bib that’s still warm with Mick O’Dwyer’s body heat cannot match the venerable Waterville maestro.

Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, Dermot Earley, Padraig Nolan and Liam Kearns were the unlucky men to try walking in the great man’s shoes. Neither of the quartet was a complete failure, but they weren’t Micko either.

That is why people sympathised with Harry Murphy. “Poisoned chalice” muttered the experts, acknowledged and self-professed. Wicklow would return to being non-entities again.

This wasn’t an unusual experience for him though, having taken over the reins at Rathnew from Moses Coffey, who is held in equally high esteem around these parts.

Having retired from a playing career that included a stint with Wicklow, Murphy immediately became a selector with Coffey, who oversaw a famous four in a row of county senior championships.

When Coffey was appointed Wicklow boss at the end of 1999, he stepped up to the plate. Unenviable task? Hardly. Four more county championships followed to complete an eight-in-a-row. In total, he accumulated seven in his 12 seasons.

And far from just carrying on Coffey’s work, he advanced it, as Rathnew secured a famous Leinster championship victory in 2001. So there was no reason to fear for Harry. He’d been here before.

As was the case with Rathnew, he hit the ground running and achieved something his exalted predecessor hadn’t. Promotion and the Allianz Football League Division 4 title were secured with his reign still in its infancy.

“Wicklow had a good run in championship football but we were still in Division 4,” says Murphy, explaining why he was unconcerned by succeeding O’Dwyer.

“We couldn’t go down any lower. The only way for Wicklow football to me was up.

“If we’d have been knocking around Division 3 or Division 2 it would have been more daunting. But to me, taking the job with the quality of player we have, I thought it was well within our reach to get out of Division 4.”

Don’t interpret this as a jibe at O’Dwyer’s tenure. He is fully aware of the benefits accrued by the Kerryman’s time on Garden duty.

“I thought Micko did a good job here with the things he aimed for. He got some good runs in the qualifiers and that was probably as good as Wicklow are, even at the moment.

“Definitely there was a lot more talk about football when he came. He got a great response from people all around the county. The players wanted to train for him and that’s carried right through.”

Far from being daunting then, it was an opportunity. The one concern perhaps was that Murphy was not the Pied Piper. What’s more, having been at the helm as Rathnew dominated proceedings domestically for more than a decade, there might have been some lingering animosity. So they got that out of the way early on.

“When we first met the players at the start of the year, we told them. I said we had a few rows in the past but now we were all going to put the shoulder to the wheel and push in the same direction.

“We’ve had a great response. I wasn’t sure if everyone would come on board because I was a local man. In fairness to them they all rowed in and we’ve had a good year so far anyway.”

Murphy is aiming to tap into the renewed interest in wearing the county jersey engendered by O’Dwyer, to provide greater depth and consistency. It’s what you’d expect from a man who is still involved with his club’s minors, combining it with his role as manager of Wicklow’s senior and football panels.

He wants to make the junior panel a pathway to the seniors rather than a holiday home for fading stars. Most of the panellists are U25, hungry and striving to climb the ladder.

Murphy likes a tight ship and being hands-on. Mick Murray is his physical trainer, while Gavin Wynne completes the ticket and that pretty much completes his backroom staff.

“To get promotion was wonderful but then to follow on in Croke Park and win silverware there wasn’t too bad. It’s only Division 4, but we think it’s significant and a step in the right direction.”

The focus now is on bigger fish.

“Meath will be a huge test. All the talk and the negativity, we take no notice of. Meath will be Meath in the championship. I can guarantee you when the draw was made, Kildare or Dublin didn’t want Meath either.

“We know we’re in for a huge battle. We’ll have to perform to the very best of our ability to stay in the game.”


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