Thursday 22 February 2018

It's a long, long way to Clare for Micko

Mick O'Dwyer
Mick O'Dwyer

When Mick O'Dwyer sat in the Westbury Hotel in September 2011, just a few days before the All-Ireland final, previewing the imminent meeting of Kerry and Dublin, no one really believed him when he suggested he'd be back to the crease to bat again before too long.

Pointing to discomfort in an ankle, the great septuagenarian was adamant that once the scalpel's work was done, his enthusiasm would look after itself. Don't write him off, he warned us.

But hostages to ageism, as we sometimes are, we did just that with the communal assurance that he wouldn't be back. Where was left to him to weave his wizardry?

Last week we detailed the ages of the managers who will stand on the grid in 2013 and worked out an average of just 44 years. Of the 11 new managers appointed over the course of the last few months, six are 41 years and younger. That's the trend.

There wasn't a 60-year-old-plus manager in sight, nor was it possible to speculate that there would be. Confirmation of Clare's approach to O'Dwyer in recent days may change all that.

O'Dwyer is believed to be mulling over an offer to take charge of a fifth county in a remarkable career and come good on his promise that he would be back. A decision is expected after the weekend.

It stands to reason Clare would be drawn to O'Dwyer to electrify them in some way as he has done in the three Leinster counties he has been with since his post-Kerry odyssey began more than 22 years ago now. His record is truly phenomenal. His first four-year spell with Kildare, admittedly, was frustrating, but his return for a further six years was quite a triumph. The county hasn't won a Leinster title since, nor had they for 32 years before their 1998 breakthrough under his command.

Nor have Laois won a Leinster title in the nine years since their modern-day breakthrough that ended 57 years of provincial misery.

His methods may be derided by some who see the game as the equivalent environment of a laboratory, but the scale of results say everything.

Even Wicklow beating Kildare and holding Armagh to a home draw in a qualifier match would equate to possibly anything he achieved anywhere else.

Formalising an arrangement with Clare is not yet certain and what constitutes relative success with Wicklow and even Laois and Kildare, may not just be as attainable in the Banner County.

The duopoly of Cork and Kerry is strongest of any province in the country and dislodging them would be next to impossible.


Clare have been to Munster finals in the past -- they lost to Cork in July -- so that's not the simple criteria for success either. The measurement tools for what constitutes success are much different. Beating Waterford, Limerick or even Tipperary doesn't constitute the same level of progress as Wicklow beating Kildare or forcing a replay out of Armagh.

Beyond that, there is the league, which didn't exercise him much during his time with Wicklow, and the qualifiers, which will probably be the most fertile ground for him to make an impact.

Clare have regularly dipped into Kerry for direction for their football team, not always with desirable results.

Ditching the Michael Brennan/Donie Buckley partnership for Paidi O Se in late 2006 was a clear mistake that even O Se will admit to. After just one season, 2007, it was evident that it wasn't working out and O Se was quick to walk away.

Prior to that John O'Keeffe and John Kennedy both had reasonably successful spells with Clare, O'Keeffe presiding over a shock Munster championship win over Cork in 1997, Kennedy managing Clare to Tommy Murphy Cup success seven years later.

But the reality O'Dwyer may face if he elects to jump back into management is that Clare is primarily a hurling county -- Kerry, Kildare, Laois and Wicklow weren't.

That mindset is unlikely to change much on his arrival and the idea that he can spawn interest in the game or make the same sudden impact as he did with his three previous counties, must be clouded in doubt.

Regardless of what happens in Clare, if it happens at all, the preservation of gaelic football's most successful managerial career is assured.

But this has the potential to be a step too far.

Micko's managerial journey so far

Kerry (1974-1989)

Appointed in 1974, the then 38-year-old oversaw the most successful period of any team in Gaelic football history as Kerry won eight of the next 12 All-Ireland titles. He almost lost the job after the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin but survived and won the next four titles. Stepped down after the 1989 Munster final defeat to Cork.

Kildare (1990-1994, 1996-2002)

Two very contrasting spells with Kildare. He took over to some fanfare in late 1990 when movement of managers wasn't nearly as commonplace. His presence was infectious and standards were raised dramatically but success just didn't follow, with defeats to Dublin in three successive years after losing the 1991 league final to them. He stepped down after the 1994 defeat to Dublin but returned in late 1996 and in subsequent years won the only two Leinster titles that Kildare have claimed in the last 56 years.

Laois (2002-2006)

By his own admission probably his least enjoyable experience as an inter-county manager, yet his impact was instant as Laois won their only Leinster title in 66 years when they claimed the Delaney Cup in 2003. In the end he felt he stayed on too long, but his achievement in reaching three out of four All-Ireland quarter-finals has to be acknowledged.

wicklow (2007-2011)

Success is relative, so it might just be that Mick O'Dwyer would consider his five seasons in Wicklow to be as successful as any other period of management in the game. He was probably never going to win a Leinster title at the outset, but beating Kildare and the trilogy with Louth were highlights, as was forcing a draw out of Armagh in the Athletic Grounds in a 2011 qualifier.

Irish Independent

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