Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Dwyer the GAA’s Muhammad Ali'

Weeshie Fogarty salutes the genius of the Waterville maestro as manager, businessman and one of Kerry's greatest players

O’Dwyer poses in the hills of Wicklow during his time with the Garden County Picture: David Conachy
O’Dwyer poses in the hills of Wicklow during his time with the Garden County Picture: David Conachy

Michael Verney

Everyone remembers Mick O'Dwyer as the successful Kerry manager, the missionary who lifted the fortunes of counties like Kildare, Laois and Wicklow, but to Weeshie Fogarty that wasn't the half of his talents and to him, the larger-than-life Waterville legend embodies everything great about the GAA.

Having first watched him in action for South Kerry in the 1950s, played alongside him with the Kingdom, duelled with him during the three epic senior county final battles between East Kerry and O'Dwyer's Waterville from 1968 to '70, the current Radio Kerry journalist knows him better than most.

Widely acclaimed as the greatest GAA manager of all time, Weeshie feels his skill on the football fields of Waterville was never given due credit as he helped to create a Kerry footballing powerhouse in a village of just 500 people.

With 'Dwyer' acting as manager, trainer, selector and star forward, they went on a 50-game unbeaten run in Kerry in the '60s as he regularly clocked up match-winning tallies before hanging up his boots at the ripe old age of 48.

"There's more to Dwyer than management, his life is in little compartments and he excelled in every single one of them and I'd say throughout his life he hardly ever made one enemy you know," he says.

"He led small, little Waterville to three county finals against us (East Kerry) and we had the pick of 13 clubs including giants like Legion and Crokes. They won everything bar the county championship.

"In one final we had 14 lads out there that had played with Kerry and Dwyer was the best player in all those finals. In my view he was easily the greatest club footballer in Kerry and I've seen them all.

"And I'd rate him along with Mick O'Connell, Jack O'Shea, Seamus Moynihan and Maurice Fitzgerald as one of top five greatest Kerry players I saw.

The ‘snappy dresser’ Mick O’Dwyer on the sideline during the 1984 final Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
The ‘snappy dresser’ Mick O’Dwyer on the sideline during the 1984 final Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

"He was a fierce strong man, he believed in ultimate fitness and always practised what he preached. He wasn't the most stylish or most skilful but he got he best out of himself and was always the top scorer."

Micko was leading marksman for Kerry in championship for five years after winning two All-Irelands at wing-back and Weeshie recalls playing in goals in a tournament final in Croke Park in '69, against Offaly, and watching Micko hit 2-11, nearly all from play.

All of this came after only being a sub with the Kerry minors, which led to an iconic photograph before the All-Ireland final with Dwyer kneeling down in the front row with his boots, socks and togs on as normal but no jersey.

In its place was his best Sunday shirt and a pullover. He openly admits that due to the absence of a South Kerry selector he never got a break, and indeed never got his Munster medal, that was until last year, some 61 years later.

That was something Weeshie and fellow Kerry commentating great Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh happily solved when they organised for Munster Council chairman Robert Frost to present it to him on a great August night in Waterville.

With his remarkable physicality, Weeshie believes he'd excel in the modern game.

"His strong points were his strength, his fitness, his ability to win possession and his ability to go past other players. He'd blow the mass defence apart and go f***ing through them."

Fogarty had the "pleasure" of circumnavigating the globe with Micko and the Kerry team in 1970, after their triumph in '69, and it provided him with his fondest memory of the Waterville great, another reminder that we was more than a charismatic manager.

Playing for Kerry in 1964 Picture: Connolly Collection/Sportsfile
Playing for Kerry in 1964 Picture: Connolly Collection/Sportsfile

"A gang of us went out on a boat in Sydney Harbour one day to view the sights and fellas started a sing-song, as you do. Lads were having a few pints, Mick doesn't drink at all, he never needed to, but he stood up at the front of the boat," he says.

"And in the top of his voice out in Sydney Harbour, he sang 'The Boys of Barr na Sráide'. And a fine singer he was too. That's the one lovely memory I have of Mick Dwyer from hundreds of great times."

Delighted to call Dwyer a good friend, the Kerryman columnist speaks of a great family man, who loved his late wife and "rock" Mary Carmel. He speaks of a cunning businessman who owned a hotel, a garage, a pub and ran a nightclub, all in Waterville.

He remembers him being involved as an undertaker and driving a hearse through Killarney with a coffin in the back. There was nothing he couldn't do, or wouldn't do, and he brought all his business savvy to the Kerry fold.

"He was way before his time because he set up this deal with adidas and he also set up the deal with the Bendix washing machine, organising a unique sponsorship on the day of the 1985 All-Ireland final," he says.

"There was a full-page photo in the Sunday Independent with lots of Kerry players and himself. They were standing around a washing machine with nothing on only a towel or shorts. He brought all his business acumen to Kerry."

His immaculate physique, "built to perfection", was always drowned in finery with Weeshie describing him as a "fierce snappy dresser, the most stylish manager on the line during his time".

He donned classy polo shirts, designer-style pullovers, flares, radiant colours while pinstripe suits, white shirts and a tie were the order of the day for the many functions which he attended, and still does as he always is in great demand.

As a hungry reporter, Weeshie had regular dealings with Dwyer and believes he was way before his time when it came to dealings with the media, the GAA version of the iconic Muhammad Ali.

After Kerry’s All-Ireland final win over Tyrone in 1986 Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
After Kerry’s All-Ireland final win over Tyrone in 1986 Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

"With all the talk of closing down training and players being kept away secret and that from the media, when he was training Kerry and winning titles, I saw reporters actually being asked to train with the team," he says.

"John O'Shea (founder of GOAL) togged out and trained with Kerry one night to get an insight into training. He always has time for everyone and behind it all, it was Mick Dwyer the man, he's an amazing person."

"He is greatest GAA manager/player/personality of all time, he was the Muhammad Ali of the Gaelic Games, he was a wonderful ambassador for the GAA. He did everything, proved himself on and off the field.

"He's one of the nicest human beings you could meet and he got nicer in time, always very courteous with his time, always very obliging. If I was at a football match now and wanted an interview he'd just say, 'No problem, how much do you want?'"

For his new book, entitled 'The Heart and Soul of Kerry Football' which is set for an autumn release, Fogarty spoke to many who served under Micko with one 70-year-old ex-Waterville player stating that he wouldn't smoke in front of Dwyer out of respect.

In all his dealings Weeshie describes how Dwyer always "paddled his own canoe". "He's an extraordinary man, he was the best at everything he did."

Eighty years and still going strong, there's only one Mick O'Dwyer.

Micko's world in his own words

“I’m a double addict. Football and driving took hold of me a long time ago and never let go.”

– They complemented each other perfectly as he devoted the many hours driving for football to planning how to play the game.

Lining up without a jersey for the 1954 All-Ireland minor final (front row, far right)
Lining up without a jersey for the 1954 All-Ireland minor final (front row, far right)


“Brendan Hayden gave me a right roasting, scoring three points from play. I left the pitch wondering if this would be my first and last game as a Kerry senior.” – Micko’s senior debut on October 21, 1956 didn’t go too well as Kerry lost to Carlow in the NFL in Tralee.


“I was pushing 38 and felt it was time to go, That day in Killorglin was to be the end.”

– An outstanding 18-year career ended with a challenge game against Sligo on May 19, 1974.


“We trained 27 nights on the trot for the 1975 Championship, which was unheard of up to then. It was crazy stuff but they were young enough to take it.”

– His fitness formula worked in his first season as Kerry manager.


“This is the best Kerry team of all time.”

– Prophetic words after the win over Dublin in the 1975 All-Ireland final.


“There are times when fate makes a decision and isn’t for turning.”

– A philosophical response to having the five-in-a-row dream wrecked by Offaly in 1982.


“I should have left at the end of 1987. The spell had been broken”.

– Instead he stayed on for two more years with Kerry.


“I would regard it as the No.1 achievement in my career.”

– His reaction to Kildare winning the Leinster title for the first time in 42 years in 1998.


“The sheer delight on the faces of the Laois public on the night the Leinster Cup arrived back in Portlaoise is something I will always remember.”

– More Leinster delight after Laois won the title for the first time in 57 years in 2003.

“I thought we’d get through them in a few sessions but 120 players turned up. Everyone wanted to play for Wicklow, including lads who hadn’t bothered before.”

– His arrival in Wicklow sparked a massive surge of interest.


“I’m not advocating pay-for-play on a weekly basis but why not give inter-county players even a small share of the gate money as part of a genuine expenses deal?” – He has never been reticent about throwing down challenges to the GAA.


“Of all the blessings a person can have, health is the most important and I’m glad to say I have been lucky in that regard.”

– An appreciation for a key fundamental in life.

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