Thursday 29 September 2016

Micko's way with people a prized asset

His ability to inspire was central to the managerial triumphs after 18 years as an inter-county footballer

Published 09/06/2016 | 02:30

Mick O’Dwyer broke new ground with Wicklow Picture: Gerry Mooney
Mick O’Dwyer broke new ground with Wicklow Picture: Gerry Mooney
Mick O’Dwyer Picture: Sportsfile

Tuesday morning, January 2, 2007. I'm driving into the car park of the Green Isle Hotel on the Naas Road out of Dublin a full 25 minutes ahead of schedule for a meeting

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I'm due to link up with Mick O'Dwyer to begin work on his autobiography and this is the day when we sort out the practicalities of how it's going to be put together.

The hotel foyer looked quiet: time for a quick coffee then before he arrived. Actually, it's not that quiet.

Away in a distant corner sits Micko, surrounded by three men, listening intently. They had broken away from a business meeting to engage with him and, typically, he was giving them full value.

I arrive over; Micko looks up, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and taps his watch.

"You're late."

"No, I'm not. I'm 25 minutes early."

"Are you sure? I thought we said half-nine."

Mick O’Dwyer: Calling the shots in Kerry training
Mick O’Dwyer: Calling the shots in Kerry training

"No - we said ten o'clock."

Between then and the launch of his book in the following October, we met dozens of times and never once did I get anywhere before him. I was never late - he was always earlier than early.

Arranged

He was managing Wicklow at the time and would often have driven up from Waterville but always made it ahead of the arranged time.

Much of the work for the book was done in the Breheny house, where Micko's many visits throughout the year always had the same effect, not just on me but also on my wife Rosemary, son Alan and daughter Linda.

After a few weeks, they were all looking forward to his arrival just as much as I was, knowing that when he got into storytelling mood with a cup of tea in his hand (Micko loves lots of tea), the entertainment taps would run long and freely.

There wasn't a single occasion when we didn't feel better after he left, having brightened up the day with the sheer expanse of his lively personality.

How many people can you say that about? How many always lift the spirits of those they meet?

In my opinion, that side of his character was a huge contributor to making him the most successful manager in football history.

His capacity to make people feel good about themselves was of enormous importance, especially in Kildare, Laois and Wicklow, counties that had struggled for so long to make real progress.

It was different in Kerry. They had won 22 All-Ireland titles, with Micko aboard for four of them, by the time he took over as manager in late 1974 so the Kingdom's pedigree had been well-established.

O’Dwyer bringing Sam Maguire home in 1986 Picture: NPA/Independent Library
O’Dwyer bringing Sam Maguire home in 1986 Picture: NPA/Independent Library

And while they had fallen behind Offaly, Cork and Dublin, they were always going to rise again.

The obsession he brought as a player was taken to even higher levels in his new role as manager, which really is saying something.

During his playing days, a preoccupation with allowing nothing to stand in the way of football is perfectly illustrated by the reaction to having his big toe badly crushed by a concrete manhole cover in an accident in his garage on the Wednesday before the 1963 league final against Down.

He couldn't get the heavily bandaged toe into a football boot but, despite advice to miss the final, he stubbornly refused to let the injury force him out. Instead, he cut off the top of the boot, got an injection ('it was so strong it would have knocked out a horse') to numb the entire toe area. He played, Kerry won, the injection wore off and he was left with excruciating pain.

"I was probably stupid to play. I could have lost the bloody toe," he said.

There's no doubt that he was fortunate to take over as Kerry manager at a time when so much once-in-a-lifetime talent was flowing upstream.

Mick O’Dwyer Picture: Sportsfile
Mick O’Dwyer Picture: Sportsfile

However, it's highly unlikely that anyone else would have succeeded in keeping them together as such a powerful force for so long. He knew exactly when to loosen or tug the reins, a combination that worked so successfully between 1975 and 1986.

If his departure from Kerry in 1989 had marked the end of his managerial career, there would, no doubt, be claims that it was relatively easy to accumulate so many titles with that special group of players.

Fortunate

That's why his achievements in Kildare, Laois and indeed Wicklow have become so central to the Micko story.

Indeed, he still regards the 1998 Leinster breakthrough with Kildare as his finest managerial achievement. He loved his time there, especially the second coming (1997-2002) which brought so much joy to Lilywhite land.

It was a stroke of genius by Laois - with Declan O'Loughlin as a big driving force - to hijack Micko on his way out of Kildare in the autumn of 2002.

By mid-summer 2003, Laois had won their first Leinster title in 57 years. Four years later, Wicklow, now under Micko's guidance, had the rare experience of winning a trophy (Tommy Murphy Cup) and in 2008 they won a Leinster senior championship game in Croke Park for the first time.

Wicklow's 2009 qualifier wins over Fermanagh, Cavan and Down represent their best ever All-Ireland run, days when O'Dwyer urged them to think bigger and bolder as they went.

That momentum wasn't built on in Wicklow, no more than Kildare or Laois are in any comparable to the years when Micko was there.

That tells its own story about possibly the most remarkable man in GAA history.

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