Saturday 21 October 2017

Micko: End of the line or another battery recharge?

Kerry legend 'not ruling out' one more roll of the dice

O'Dwyer making his way to the dressing-rooms afterwards
O'Dwyer making his way to the dressing-rooms afterwards
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

ONLY time will tell whether, after 56 years of direct involvement in senior championship football as player and manager, Mick O'Dwyer's remarkable career ended in Ennis last Saturday.

The man himself doesn't know – "never say never, I'm certainly not ruling anything out for the future" – which is understandable because much of his managerial career path was based on unlikely circumstances as much as careful planning. The dice rolled and Micko took his chances.

Kerry's repeated championship failure in the early 1970s prompted the then county chairman, Ger McKenna, to approach O'Dwyer six months after he had played his final game for Kerry in 1974 at the age of 37.

Micko spent 15 years as Kerry boss, presiding over the most successful period in the county's history, when Sam Maguire spent no fewer than eight winters in the Kingdom.

In late 1990, a group of Kildare romantics persuaded Micko to join the Lilywhite band. It was an audacious move, one that drew scorn from some quarters but which turned out be an inspired decision.

Two stints and two Leinster titles later, he left in 2002 but never made it home to Waterville. Conscious of what he had done for their neighbours, Laois hijacked him as he headed south, appointing him manager in autumn 2002. Less than a year later, Laois were Leinster champions for the first time in 57 years.

Micko left them after the 2006 championship, only to have Wicklow on the line, wondering if he would spread his magic dust around the county.

He spent five seasons with Wicklow, during which they won their first senior championship game at Croke Park, beat Cavan, Fermanagh and Down in successive All-Ireland qualifier clashes and brought silverware back home in the form of the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2007.

Micko's promotional output in Wicklow was almost as important as his managerial work. Wicklow had more games covered 'live' by television during his term than in all their previous history.

His stint with Clare was by far the shortest of his five managerial postings, starting last November and ending last Saturday.

"I said from the start that I would be going in for one year only. As it happened, I was only there for eight months," O'Dwyer.

"There's a lot of work to be done in Clare but there's a fair lot of talent in the county. We brought in some promising young lads who will make good players in the coming years.

"It went well enough against Laois for a good while last Saturday but we lost our way before and after half-time and you can't do that against a good team."

Clare were always going to be his most difficult assignment because they spend their lives under the giant thumbs that Cork and Kerry use to press down on their four weaker neighbours. It has built a psychological barrier that's very difficult to break down even over a period of years, let alone in an eight-month stint.

O'Dwyer would have relished taking on the challenge at another time but since he had decided to spend only one season with Clare, there was a limit to what could have been achieved.

Now, the big question is whether he will turn up in another posting at some time in the future. If he does, he will bring the usual levels of energy to the task but if it turns out that Clare was indeed his last managerial job, it will have brought down the curtain on an incredible career.

Unloved by the GAA's ruling classes because of his outspoken views, he was always more interested in the pitch and the training ground than the corridors of power, whether locally or nationally.

It defies logic that he was never invited to manage the Irish International Rules team, despite an interest in the shared GAA-AFL experience, which went back to his playing days. Despite that, it became apparent over the years that he wasn't going to get the manager's job although no reason was ever given as to why he was ignored.

Now, as he signs off from the latest phase of his management career, he believes that Championship 2013 could have one of the most exciting climaxes for years, with Dublin heading his list of serious title contenders.

"Dublin have looked the real deal all year. We won't know, I suppose, what they're really like until they meet some of the other favourites but they're certainly looking good right now," he said. "Donegal, Cork, Kerry and Mayo are the other main contenders. Tyrone are in there too but they would be near the end of that line."

He was delighted with the style of play on offer at the Kerry-Cork game on Sunday, describing it as "a good old-fashioned Munster final, played in the right way". And while some may argue that the style no longer wins All-Ireland titles, Micko doesn't accept that.

"Good players playing good open football always have a chance of winning an All-Ireland," he said. "That applies to Kerry and Cork right now."

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