Friday 24 February 2017

Micko itching for one last tilt at glory

Veteran Wicklow boss desperate to bow out on high in final campaign

THE irresistible lure of football leads the legendary Mick O'Dwyer into the fray for yet one more season in his fifth decade of senior inter-county management.

He has said this will be his last campaign, and even though he will celebrate his 75th birthday on June 9, we will believe that when we see it, for O'Dwyer himself admits that the game is like a drug to him.

And like any addict, once the withdrawal symptoms set in, as they did in the time between Wicklow's championship exit last summer and his decision to soldier on for 2011, the pain of quitting can prove too much to bear.

O'Dwyer had plenty of suitors, and at one stage looked a strong candidate for the job in Mayo.

But when it came to the crunch, there was a tug of desire to push forward with Wicklow and see what can be achieved before he finally signs off.

Challenge

In an ideal world, Wicklow would mount an unstoppable challenge and race to a Leinster title at the minimum, giving the Garden County a long-awaited taste of senior glory.

O'Dwyer, however, is too long in the tooth to make any predictions or believe that he or Wicklow are owed anything by the football gods.

He will work as hard as ever and see how the senior team's results evolve, but his wish is that long after he is gone, Wicklow football will be the better for his time there.

That, he says, was the central reason for opting to continue for a fifth successive year with the county despite last year's indifferent league form and a first-round qualifier exit to Cavan in June.

"I thought I'd had enough. I was undecided at the time. I suppose when you're away from football for a while you get itchy to get back into it again. It's like a drug," he says.

"I wasn't tempted by other counties. I made up my mind I was going to finish with Wicklow. There were plenty of overtures alright, but I never said to Wicklow I was leaving at all at any stage, so that was it."

So what does O'Dwyer see in Wicklow? After all, this is the man who managed Kerry to eight All-Irelands, brought Kildare Leinster titles and an All-Ireland appearance, and also guided Laois to a provincial crown.

"Well, I have done everything that I want to do in football, so if I can go and help one of the so-called weaker counties, that's fine," he says.

"It's not so much about them winning a senior title, but if young fellas start to play the game as a result of my being there, and that encourages the game in Wicklow, that's what matters.

"Generating interest in the county is the most important thing for me. My hope is that Wicklow minor and U-21 and senior teams in the not too distant future will be able to compete with the best, and that's what it's all about.

"Irrespective of what we might achieve in the championship this year, I'd hope that that would be a legacy for the future from my involvement with them."

Micko leads Wicklow into O'Byrne Cup action against Laois at Portlaoise tomorrow and if ever there was a low-key start to a campaign, this is it.

The maestro met his squad on Thursday night to ascertain the fitness and availability of players, knowing that the flu bug also has to be taken into account when putting a panel together for the trip.

If O'Dwyer had his way, the O'Byrne Cup would be over now and he and other managers could be concentrating on getting ready for the league.

"I think the O'Byrne Cup should be played in November and December and give teams a chance to get prepared for the league, that's the way it should go," he says.

"I'd probably prefer that to starting the league in October, because if you played the O'Byrne Cup before Christmas there wouldn't be any big pressure on players, and then you could get training going for the league."

Nevertheless, weather permitting, the show must go on and the fixture with Laois adds a touch of spice to the occasion. It's intriguing that fate decrees Micko's first competitive engagement of the year should be against the O'Moore County, where he first brought success before matters turned sour.

Of all people to suffer player power, you'd think O'Dwyer would be the last, but it happened, despite his bringing them to a first league final in 17 years in 2003, and then the Leinster championship for the first time since 1946.

Higher expectations among fans and players, and criticism of O'Dwyer's training methods by players, caused the Kerryman to consider resigning in 2004.

On reflection, he felt he should have quit in '04, and was on the verge of resigning at the start of '06.

O'Dwyer chronicled the ups and downs as part of his comprehensive official autobiography 'Blessed and Obsessed' with Martin Breheny.

"Don't get me wrong, I had good times in Laois, but it was never quite the same from the end of 2004," he said in the book.

Colm Parkinson raised the O'Dwyer issue last year calling him a 'bluffer' and saying he didn't like him, but Laois officials and former players rallied to praise O'Dwyer for his achievements with the county.

This issue won't have any bearing tomorrow. As far as O'Dwyer is concerned, he had his say in his book and did not respond to Parkinson's comments last year. This is a game to shake off the Christmas cobwebs, have a look at some new young talent, and take the long-term view.

Of far more interest in terms of Portlaoise for O'Dwyer is the Leinster championship draw which pits Wicklow against his old friends Kildare on May 25 at O'Moore Park.

"We're looking forward to a good season. The championship is the thing we're trying to build a team for. The big game for Wicklow this year will be against Kildare up in Portlaoise, so that's the one we'll be building for.

"Leinster this year is going to be highly competitive, there's no doubt whatsoever about that.

"Kildare are going great guns at the moment. Louth had a fabulous year last year. Dublin look very impressive, Meath are not too far away, and Offaly won't be too bad.

"Maybe the big guns like Kerry and Tyrone have slipped a bit, so there could be a bit of levelling-off all round, and we should have a great championship.

"As far as that goes for Wicklow, we're hoping to be able to compete with the best. That's all we can do, no more than that," says O'Dwyer.

Irish Independent

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