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Brand Micko

ANY analysis of the extraordinary phenomenon that is Mick O'Dwyer's intoxicating love affair with the GAA should primarily be predicated upon one shimmering principle.

The man is addicted purely to the game and nothing else.

Were he driven by any other motivating factors, his focus could not have maintained the same fiery passion it has throughout more than three decades, whether it be driving the game's greatest ever dynasty, or propagating his unique messianic wares in Leinster's faltering backwaters.

Naturally, as ever with such larger than life figures, there will always be an undercurrent of gossip and innuendo attaching itself to the legend. And much of this hearsay has revolved around a seemingly inextricable link with the subject that dare not be raised in GAA circles. Money.

Figures of €100,000 are regularly tossed about in clubhouses and bars when managerial under-the-table payments are concerned -- and, as former GAA president Peter Quinn once averred, it's awfully difficult to even locate the table.

O'Dwyer, if loose talk from scurrilous sceptics suspicious of his motives is to be believed, has only ever been in it for the money. People scoff at his inclination to drive hundreds of thousands of miles to pursue his passion, as if mileage sheets rather than All-Ireland medals are his magnificent obsessions.

Principled conservatives sneer at payments to any association member, deigning the dispensation of monies to managers -- or players for that matter -- to be akin to thieving footballs and sliotars from impecunious juveniles.

Utter nonsense, of course, especially when viewed through the particular prism of O'Dwyer dropping anchor in Kildare, Laois and Wicklow. In all three cases, any GAA-sanctioned expenses doled out to O'Dwyer were predominantly seconded by high-rolling businessmen, eager to see their beloved football teams winning again.

In any event, O'Dwyer's enthusiastic zeal for reviving these once moribund counties; more, his sheer presence in the county, guaranteed a vastly disproportionate flow of income which would not have accrued otherwise.

If pin-striped businessmen are boosting the county board coffers, should anyone really give two whits? Especially if more people are playing football and getting involved in their local club or county team. It's a priceless investment.

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"Brand Micko" energised previously untapped revenue sources. If even the faintest rumours of Micko's appearance in a bar reached the outlines of a townland or village, receipts trebled.

In Wicklow earlier this year post-Micko, county jerseys outsold those from the Premiership. A golf classic generated in the hundreds of thousands, rather than merely hundreds, as people flocked to join the bandwagon, where before they would have had to be press ganged into subscribing.

Behind the sniggers and the official scepticism from on high, few recognised the empirical benefits which could accrue from merely being associated with the phenomenon that is Micko.

And it's not just commercial activities which benefit; although financial benefits to the GAA are, lest we forget, beneficial for the community at large. Charities could land windfalls with even the briefest, albeit most sincere, presence of O'Dwyer at a hospital or a raffle or a table quiz.

Would a Wicklow man have spent €1,750 on a signed jersey or €1,300 on a signed football at a raffle three years ago?

Interested

"The GAA should be more interested in promoting the games in the weaker counties than in worrying about rumours," says O'Dwyer of his Wicklow role. "If you can get good men into counties to take over teams -- what's wrong with that? It's crazy to be talking about managers getting this or that -- we're all Irishmen and, if we can help promote the games, isn't that the important thing? People will be saying 'what's he getting in Wicklow' but I can assure you that I'm doing this because I love it."

Yet the rumour mill has kept on turning. Since allowing his half-naked Kerry squad to adorn Bendix washing machines in 1985, much to Croke Park's eternal chagrin, or in his wranglings with O'Neill's playing gear as he danced with adidas, O'Dwyer has always courted controversy.

Two years ago, he took attention away from his Laois side's Leinster final date with Dublin by demanding the All-Ireland finalists get €10,000 per man. Regardless of his own financial remuneration, he has always sought to look after his players.

"When I went to Kildare and Laois, I was involved in getting jobs for players, which should have been done long before that," he said in 2003. "If you want a commitment from a player, he can't have the headache of unemployment hanging over him all the time. That's not on."

By the same extension, O'Dwyer has naturally never allowed his commitment to be swayed by financial worries. Or, more specifically, those who have engaged his services have ensured that has never been the case.

Dublin almost came knocking when Tommy Lyons was hounded out of his post in 2004 -- there were rumours certain leading businessmen were involved in luring the Kerry maestro to the capital -- and, one presumes, expenses would not have been an issue.

"If I spent my time in various businesses rather than football over the years, I'd be an exceptionally wealthy man," he once said. "But what's wealth about? The only thing that matters in life is health. I've had good health and I've done the things in life I wanted to."

Few resist the theory that his maverick views are the reason that his managerial talents have never been rewarded with the chance to manage his country in the International/Compromise Rules series. Cruelly, some wags wonder whether the GAA could afford the mileage from Waterville to Melbourne and back.

However, the Kerry maestro firmly believes that what's good for the player, in terms of claims for remuneration, should also be good for the manager even if successive GAA presidents rail against his philosophy.

"It amazes me that, amid all this campaigning for a fair deal for players, there is scarcely a murmur about the manager," he is on record as saying. "The only time I've heard it mentioned was when Croke Park launched a blitz of county boards to find out what expenses they were paying the man in charge.

"The first question that I was asked when I joined Kildare was 'how much are they giving you'. Not a word about what I might be able to achieve for the GAA in the county."

The late Michael Osborne, Sheikh Mohammed's racing manager and founder of the Kildare supporters' club, once joked, in an apparent reference to O'Dwyer's endless treks up and down the country, "We were very lucky in Kildare that Micko had two great past-times which he loved -- football and cars." However, when pressed at the time, Osborne insisted. "He got nothing. He got his mileage. I was to make up the cheque from Waterville up to Newbridge, 220 miles. He didn't get any more or less. The Mercedes car he got as a present! -- that is totally untrue. He is unreal. He is a successful businessman, he doesn't have to do it."

O'Dwyer is believed to have some property interests and shares in certain bars around the country.

There's no crime there, surely?

In 1999, he was listed as a director of a Newbridge pub which made a £190,000 settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.

"I never had a salary in my life," he once confessed.

"I take a few bob when I need it out of the business."

That business, his hotel-cum-undertakers in Waterville, is run by wife Mary Carmel. And, as he also admits, it is she who takes care of the family finances!

O'Dwyer has been worth every penny he has got in expenses and if one were to calculate his actual worth to the game, he would be on Forbes' rich list.

"We have an amateur association, but I wonder at times ... I'm supposed to be the only professional in the game," the legendary Kerryman quipped to reporters a couple of years ago.

If he was only in this life for the money, he would never have lasted so long at the top of this great game.

And what a loss that would have been.


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