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MICKO'S MAGNET STRIKES AGAIN

Colm Keys examines the transfer of Thomas Walsh to Wicklow and Mick O'Dwyer's record in the transfer market

THERE are a couple of great ironies involved in the imminent transfer of Thomas Walsh from Carlow across the county boundary to Wicklow.

The first dates back to last May when Carlow's nine-point dismissal of Wicklow in the first round of the Leinster football championship triggered the immediate departure of the then manager Hugh Kenny, creating the void that Mick O'Dwyer eventually filled.

Had Walsh's influence for Carlow not been so rich that afternoon - his manager Liam Hayes mentioned him as a possible All-Star - the result may have been different and perhaps Kenny wouldn't have jumped ship so quickly.

O'Dwyer could have embedded himself into management in another part of the country.

The other irony involves Kevin O'Brien, Wicklow's greatest football luminary, only All-Star, and currently a selector with O'Dwyer.

In an interview for a book commemorating 1,000 All-Star awards in 2004, O'Brien reflected how, on the day of the 1998 All-Ireland final between Kildare and Galway, he might have been out on the field instead of taking his seat in one of the stands.

In the course of his career he had received a couple of informal approaches, one from a Dublin contact and another from Kildare when they were resurgent under O'Dwyer.

"I was asked by a Dublin contact if I would consider leaving Wicklow. It was suggested to me that I had little chance of ever winning anything with Wicklow, whereas Dublin were serious Leinster and All-Ireland contenders every year," he recalled. "A job would be sorted out for me if I moved to a specified club in the city and I could then declare for Dublin.

"It was much the same with Kildare. Move across the border, join a Kildare club and I'd be eligible for their county panel. Again there was a job involved.

"I have no doubt that had I shown any interest in either approach things would have been organised for me," recounted O'Brien in the book, The Chosen Ones.

O'Brien stayed put and, true to the prophecy, he didn't win much with Wicklow. When he lifted the All-Ireland 'B' Cup from the podium after their 1992 final win in Navan over Antrim the handle of the cup fell off!

It's a more serious business now. With the most successful manager the game has known and one of the biggest developers in these isles as a benefactor, it's the perfect mix. Abramovich and Mourinho down Wicklow Way!

Liberation

But without the liberation of the cheque book, real progress will inevitably be capped.

As O'Brien revealed, the currency of inter-county transfers can often be jobs and enhanced prospects of success.

For Walsh, moving from Carlow to Wicklow can hardly be described as a significant football career move. Wicklow are on a high now, but for how long?

So what is it that has done it for him? What is it that has left Carlow in a rage with their chairman angrily proclaiming that O'Dwyer's "fingerprints are all over this particular issue".

O'Dwyer's abrupt denial of any involvement mirrors the repeated rebuttals that greeted any mention of a potential move for Tipperary footballer Declan Browne to Kildare, first during O'Dwyer's second reign there and then to Laois when the Waterville maestro moved deeper into the midlands and closer to Browne's hinterland.

Every January the story would circulate almost by standing order. Browne would be linked with either county and would then be forced to firefight the rumours for a number of weeks until they petered out.

O'Dwyer always denied sounding out Browne, but never hid his admiration for the talented forward who, like O'Brien so many years earlier, often ploughed a lone furrow in his native county.

Browne never moved, but others have fallen under the spell. For the first year of O'Dwyer's second coming with Kildare, Brian Murphy and Karl O'Dwyer, Micko's son, were both signed on transfers from Cork and Kerry.

Micko has always maintained that Murphy, who was never an established Cork senior, had committed to Clane and consequently Kildare before he arrived.

Karl O'Dwyer got a teaching job in Rathangan and was able to resurrect an inter-county career that had come to an abrupt halt in 1992 when Kerry were shocked by Clare in the Munster final.

Dropped

It always rankled with O'Dwyer senior that Karl was one of the only players dropped from the panel after that defeat and never recalled. His arrival in Kildare offered the opportunity to prove a point.

No one could have expected Murphy and O'Dwyer junior to have succeeded like they did in Kildare. But a rising tide lifted all boats and when Murphy crashed home the crucial goal against Meath in the 1998 Leinster final the breakthrough was made after 32 years of famine. That same year, Brian Lacey became the third member of the triumvirate of imports to establish himself under O'Dwyer.

Lacey's move from Tipperary co-incided with him taking residence in Kildare town and his impact was both instant and significant, resulting in an All-Star award at right corner-back at the end of '98. His increased profile fitted nicely with his position as a broker with Coyle Hamilton at the time.

Attributing the arrival in Laois of Shane Cooke and Billy Sheehan to the O'Dwyer magnet is more of a perception than a fact, however.

Cooke, a Dublin club player of Laois parentage, was involved with the county during Colm Browne's reign, while Sheehan, a native of Tralee who had a brief flirtation with the Kerry seniors after winning an All-Ireland under-21 medal in 1998, was already hooked up with the Emo club by the time Micko was appointed.

He saw the value of transfers first hand when Shea Fahy and Larry Tompkins switched to Cork in 1987 and triggered O'Dwyer's own departure from Kerry two years later as success dried up.

Welcome

Even prior to Christmas, there were reports that fringe Dublin players would have the welcome mat laid down for them in Wicklow if they cared to move south under the new regime.

The wheel has turned full circle for Wicklow since the attempts to poach their best known player ran out of steam all those years ago.

The pied piper of Gaelic football, it seems, has struck again.