'Bubbles' catching eye for rising Tipp
Published 23/03/2013 | 05:00
Ask Ken Hogan about the young forward who has been catching the early-season eye in Tipperary's attack he has to do a quick double-think.
"John O'Dwyer?" he chuckles. "I'd hardly know him by that name, sure he's always known as 'Bubbles'."
'Bubbles' and 'Buggy.'
When opponents heard those two nick-names flying about in the Tipperary U-21 full-forward line in 2010, it must have been a tad confusing, but, by season's end, O'Dwyer and Brian O'Meara had All-Ireland medals in their back pockets.
With Hogan as manager that was a significant victory – Tipp's first U-21 title in 15 years from a team laced with future senior players.
It contained Padraic and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, Michael Cahill and Noel McGrath and, at just 19, corner-forward O'Dwyer was the baby of the side, yet still scored 2-3 against Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-finals
He still had two seasons to go at U-21 level and captained them last summer when they took out Cork and a fancied Limerick, before losing in the Munster final to a talented Clare side, who went on to win the All-Ireland.
O'Dwyer, a natural free-taker, scored 1-25 in those three games, including 1-7 (3fs) against the Banner, to underline his potential.
Eamon O'Shea gave him his senior debut in this year's Waterford Crystal opener against Limerick and his most impressive performance yet was his 1-6 against Galway last Monday, when he was actually a late-replacement for Eoin Kelly.
Hogan recalls O'Dwyer's uncle Joe winning All-Ireland minor and U-21 medals in his own day and while the emerging Killenaule forward is also an accomplished soccer player, he comes from a staunch GAA family.
"We always expected him to go on and make the senior squad, he was just a lot younger than a lot of that 2010 U-21 team," said Hogan, now in his fourth year in charge of the county U-21s.
"Of course one swallow doesn't make a summer and it's very early now to be judging him, he needs to get a lot more senior experience yet."
But Hogan is already encouraged that new manager Eamon O'Shea is giving youth its fling.
"Every team needs fresh impetus to keep the older players on their toes. Kilkenny, Galway and Clare always introduce a few new players every season at least and it is encouraging that Eamon is willing to try out young fellas," he said.
Jason Forde is another, a 19-year-old who did his Leaving last summer and has got a look-in in this year's league.
Many of Tipperary's current senior stars came out of their 2006 and 2007 All-Ireland-winning minor team (who fed into that 2010 U-21 side). And Hogan believes last summer's All-Ireland minor title – with many of the players who won a historic football minor a year earlier – is further encouragement that there's a healthy stream of players coming through to keep the pressure on the current crop.
"When we do well the hype is way too high and when we do badly the despondency is just as dramatic. Thankfully, things have settled down now again," Hogan intoned, after that early league routing inflicted by Cork.
Impressive defeats of Kilkenny and Galway have quelled the panic and Tipperary now visit Waterford, a county whose support also tends to vacillate just as dramatically.
This time last year, Michael Ryan's early tenure was under a severe threat yet Waterford regrouped and avoided relegation.
They've beaten Clare, drawn with Cork and lost to Kilkenny and, like Tipperary, Ryan's challenge is similar; trying to find the right blend of youth and experience, with Jake Dillon among the young players trying to claim a regular jersey this season.