Mick O'Dwyer: I wish people would stop moaning about football... it's a marvellous sport
Enjoying his first season in decades without a direct involvement, Mick O'Dwyer speaks candidly about the game that continues to be an addiction
Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30
At long last, Mick O'Dwyer has time to think. For the first year since his obsession for Gaelic football took hold of him as a kid in the fields around Waterville, he has no formal commitment to the game this summer.
He celebrates his 79th birthday next Tuesday, so that's a very long time to be immersed in the sport which remains his addition.
Having completed his final inter-county assignment with Clare in 2013, he looked after Waterville U-14s last year but has a clear diary this year.
Hang on - didn't he help out in Louth some weeks ago, following an invitation from manager Colin Kelly?
"I made two visits up there - that's all," he says. "I've known Colin for a long time and he asked me up to have a look at things and to suggest a few ideas. He's doing a good job, but it's not easy for him.
"The trouble with counties like Louth is that clubs won't always release players to the county panel. And since they have a small enough pick to start with, they need everyone on board."
O'Dwyer has returned to being a full-time spectator at club and county games, a role he is thoroughly enjoying after a lifetime on the sidelines.
"I could still watch football all day. Even if it's an U-9 game, there's always something to take from it. Gaelic football is a marvellous sport," he says.
So what of the complaints about blanket defences, excessive handpassing, one-sided games, sledging and the various other topics that surface nowadays?
"Look, man, you will always have people giving out about something. It's the way of the world. I wish people would stop moaning about football and enjoy it for what it is," he says.
"Of course, I'd like to see the ball being kicked more often, but that's the way the game has gone, for now anyway. Things change. It might not always be like that. But, for now, there's a lot of handpassing - so what?
"I think the game as it stands is great to watch. Can anyone say that the Donegal-Tyrone game a few weeks ago wasn't a marvellous spectacle?"
It had a high quota of handpassing but Micko found it absorbing to watch how both went about unpicking the other's defence.
So how would he counteract a massed resistance?
"Put one or two big men close to the opposition goal and play quick ball into them," he answers.
"You can use as many systems and plans as you want, but if you have a big man or two close to goal, they will do damage. They have to be good players, of course, but if they are, it will work.
"Look at how Kerry's year changed when they brought Kieran Donaghy in against Mayo last August. Straight away, Mayo were in trouble. With the likes of James O'Donoghue working alongside Donaghy, it's very hard stop, however packed the defence is."
He references the great Kerry team of the 1970s and '80s, whose remarkable run began 40 years ago this month, pointing out that they were regularly accused of overdoing the handpass.
"We used the handpass because it was allowed and because we had players who were good at it. But we also used a big man on the edge of the square," he says.
"How many of our scores came from getting quick ball into 'Bomber' (Eoin Liston), with Mikey Sheehy, John Egan and the other lads working off him? Everyone knew how we were playing, but it very hard to stop it.
"It's the same now. Some people try to complicate football, but it's a simple game. Good players can beat any system."
The bigger counties will always have more high-quality players to choose from, an issue that appears to be ever-more relevant at a time when there's disquiet over results like Dublin's trouncing of Longford.
It has even led to suggestions that the Championship be split into two tiers. Failing that, the possibility of leaving lower-ranked counties out of the All-Ireland qualifiers and playing them in a separate completion, similar to the Tommy Murphy Cup, has been mooted.
O'Dwyer doesn't agree with that. He believes that if counties want to compete in their provincial Championships and the qualifiers, they should be allowed.
However, he would also favour the restoration of a Tommy Murphy Cup-style competition, similar to what was played among weaker counties in 2004-08 - Wicklow won it under O'Dwyer in '07.
He believes that it could be played in addition to the provincial championships and qualifiers, with the final taking placing on All-Ireland semi-final or final day.
Wouldn't that further add to the problems for clubs, who are already complaining that the inter-county game is wrecking their schedules?
"There's no reason why county leagues can't be played without inter-county players. We do it all the time in Kerry and it works very well," he says.
"So I don't understand why club players in some counties are left without games for so long in the summer. In fact, if clubs are playing without their county players, it gives more lads a chance to get a game."
Having presided over a great summer in Wicklow in '09, when they beat Cavan, Fermanagh and Down on successive Saturday evenings, Micko is adamant that the qualifiers are still very important for so-called weaker counties.
"Wicklow people are still talking about that run. And later on (2011), Wicklow were unlucky not to beat Armagh up in the Athletic Grounds. The qualifiers can be very good for smaller counties if they go about them in the right way," he says.
And therein rests the problem as far as he is concerned.
"Are smaller counties really putting in the effort?" he asks.
"I'm talking about full, total commitment from everyone - players, managers, county board, the whole lot. "Anything is possible if a group gets together and puts their heart and soul into it.
There's no point saying 'sure we cannot compete because we don't have the same resources as others.' It was always the same but it didn't stop a lot of smaller counties doing well over the years.
"Look at what's happening in Tipperary now. It's a big county where hurling has always come first but the football people have done a great job and now the game is going great. Tipperary will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years."
Sledging has made its way up the agenda in recent times, amid complaints that it's on the increase, even in underage games. O'Dwyer believes that ignoring it and playing even better is the best way to counteract it.
"Talk doesn't win games. It never has and it never will," he says.
Meanwhile, back in the race for this year's All-Ireland title, he believes the final will come down to a shoot-out between Kerry and Dublin.
"They look the best around, but then it's early in the year. It's a final a lot of people would love to see. There's always something special about a Kerry-Dublin final," he says.
Just as there was 40 years ago when Micko's young team beat Heffo's heroes at the start of a fascinating rivalry between two pioneering managers.