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Ryan's ready to play Ball

"THEY talk different than I do," laughs Ryan O'Dwyer in his still dense Cashel drawl, recalling the first time he reported for duty with Kilmacud Crokes having completing his now celebrated move to Dublin.

It's a fair enough point.

He has yet to be unduly influenced by the southside twang but everything else about Crokes has blended into his lifestyle seamlessly.

And vice-versa. "The main reason behind joining Crokes was," he explains, "they definitely had the structures in place and they definitely had the players there. I could see something happening in the near future. You look at all the underage success and the numbers they get at the nurseries on a Saturday morning."

There were other factors too. Dublin selector and long-time Crokes stalwart Richie Stakelum was one. Aidan Hynes, club secretary with O'Dwyer's native Cashel King Cormac's and a former member of Kilmacud was another.

"There was definitely a connection there and when I was moving, it was a no-brainer what club I was going to pick. I'm happy with my choice anyway.

"I met with the management team before I ever trained and they talked a great game and told me what they expected of me."

Given his arrival on the inter- county stage was so dramatic and, to date, has been hugely successful, it's a wonder he hasn't, in his own words, "set the world alight" with Crokes.

"I felt old at first but it was a new challenge for me," he explains.

"I wanted to lead as one of the older lads, whereas when I was with Cashel, I was considered one of the younger lads. It was a different approach.

"In the last year, the maturity that has crept into the team has been unbelievable.

"I knew it was going to come eventually because they was such a young team, I knew they were going to mature.

"But it has happened a year or two quicker than I thought it would."

He cites an example of the more youthful number on the current panel as proof of a rapidly rising tide.

"There are a few lads there that from under-14s up to senior, they won 32 championship games without getting beaten," he notes, incredulously.

"I knew the raw materials were there and it was just whether I could add any bite to it at all."

His entire family arrived up to Parnell Park for the county final against Cuala along with Cashel pair Hynes and Seamus Foley to watch O'Dwyer help Crokes bridge a 27-year gap back to their last SHC 'A' success in 1985.

He acknowledges now, though, that the seeds of intent were sown earlier in the summer prior to departing for America for a few weeks.

"When 'Boden went out, we said we had a chance," he admits. "But Lucan said they had a chance. Cuala were after beating Ballyboden so they felt they had a chance. O'Toole's thought they had a chance. Any team that was left said 'right, this is our chance now'.

So they took it. O'Dwyer himself scored a goal but he, like Crokes as a team, wasn't entirely happy with his exploits.

Which leads him to this Sunday and a crack at Oulart-The Ballagh in Parnell Park and a chance to improve and lead in a more involved way.

Oulart, O'Dwyer suggests, "are very similar to Ballyboden over the last few years. They could take it that they could win their county championship so they were looking more at Leinster."

Looking at Leinster is one thing but as 'Boden learned in five successive seasons, winning in it is another thing.

"If you look at it, they were beaten by Ballyhale and Birr and teams that went on to win it or at least get to the All-Ireland final, so it's not as if they were playing poor teams outside Dublin and just didn't perform," O'Dwyer says, adding that the game changes in very significant ways from here on in.

"It's all about a dogged performance. This time of year, the ground is that bit softer than in the summer. It's that bit colder so you might put the hurley to the ball instead of going at it with your hand.

"It's all about the mental side of it. A lot of it is a mental game and who wants it more."

As he acknowledges, Oulart were probably scheming and plotting for Leinster before even the Wexford championship begun whereas Crokes are residing in an entirely different boat, one with the words 'bonus territory' emblazoned across the side.

"We weren't thinking about it before we won Dublin," O'Dywer stresses.

"That's the rock you perish on. We enjoyed the night of the county final but the following day, we were thinking of Oulart straight away. We genuinely were.

"Now, you could look at it and say, 'We won the county, we haven't done that in 27 years, so we're happy with that'.

"But we might never be in this position again so while we're here now -- I'm not saying we're going to win it -- but if Oulart win," he adds emphatically, "they're going to have a battle on their hands."


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