Wednesday 17 January 2018

Football's most remarkable man signs off after 60 years in trenches

Micko cites Leinster heroics with Laois and Kildare and 1978 All-Ireland revenge on Dubs among most cherished memories of amazing career

Mick o'dwyer yesterday announced his final break with inter-county football
Mick o'dwyer yesterday announced his final break with inter-county football
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It started as a minor with Kerry in 1954 and ended 60 years later when Mick O'Dwyer yesterday announced his final break with inter-county football as a player or manager.

In between rests the most extraordinary career in GAA history, combining unprecedented achievement with unrivalled longevity at the top end of Gaelic football.

Having completed one season with Clare last year, O'Dwyer had plenty of time to think about the future over recent months as he recovered from an ankle operation, and he has decided that his days as a county manager are finally over.

"My days of rolling up the match programme tightly in my hand in the dressing-room and heading out to patrol the sidelines are over. I'd be happy to give a bit of advice from time to time if anyone wants it, but I won't be managing again. That's behind me now," he said.

O'Dwyer had an operation to fuse a troublesome ankle four months ago, which ruled him out of taking any managerial job last autumn, and is making good progress.

However, he decided during the break that despite being as smitten by the football bug as when he first wore the Kerry jersey as a minor 60 years ago, he would not be returning to management.

"It's time to let it go. I've had an unbelievable time as a player and manager and always believed in the 'never say never' motto, but it's time to pack in the management side of things," he said.

His incredibly busy career was one of the reasons why he delayed an operation on his ankle until last autumn. It had been bothering him on and off for 50 years but he battled on through the pain barrier during his playing days (he continued at club level until 1984).

Having gone into senior county management shortly after his inter-county playing career ended in 1974, there never seemed an appropriate time to have the operation on an injury which he sustained in early 1964.


"There was always something else to do but when I finished with Clare last summer, I knew that was the time to have the operation.

"The ankle was giving me fierce problems but it's coming on great since the operation and will give me a new lease of life when it's fully okay," said O'Dwyer.

He will miss the excitement of being involved with county teams but has so many great memories to reflect on that even if he devoted all his time to them, hundreds would get squeezed out.

The biggest of his managerial thrills came in 1978 when Kerry recovered from successive championship defeats by great rivals by Dublin to win the All-Ireland final by 5-11 to 0-9.

"We beat Dublin in the 1975 All-Ireland final but they came back and beat us in the 1976 final and 1977 semi-final.

"I got a lot of stick after the 1977 defeat and probably would not have survived if it wasn't for the support of the then Kerry chairman, Ger McKenna. He stood by me -- even when it looked as if it might damage his own prospects of being re-elected chairman -- and I always greatly appreciated that.

"It made 1978 a very important year for us. Not only did Kerry win the All-Ireland but we beat Dublin by 17 points in the final. Crazy altogether," said O'Dwyer.

It launched a four-in-a-row run which was followed by the biggest disappointment of O'Dwyer's managerial career.

Seamus Darby's winning goal for Offaly in the 1982 All-Ireland final goes down as one of the most famous moments in championship history, but while it ended Kerry's ambitions of becoming the first county to win the five-in-a-row, it didn't dull their enthusiasm as they came back to win a treble in 1984, '85 and '86.

While O'Dwyer's success in presiding over eight All-Ireland wins in 12 seasons with Kerry was remarkable, his later achievements in Kildare and Laois provided him with highlights which came close to matching the 1978 All-Ireland triumph.

He led Kildare to their first Leinster title success for 42 years in 1998 (they won another title two years later) and then steered Laois to provincial glory for the first time in 57 years in 2003.

"I got huge satisfaction from winning Leinster with Kildare and Laois. It meant so much to the people in those counties. It's easy for counties who win All-Irelands fairly regularly to lose sight of what a provincial win means to other counties.

"Anyone who looked at Kildare in 1998 and Laois in 2003 would understand that. I had some marvellous times in Wicklow too. There are some great football people in that county," he said.

He believes Gaelic football is in a very strong position at present and that standards across the country are more even than ever.

"Not everyone can win the All-Ireland but that doesn't mean that all those who don't aren't doing things right. Every county is putting in a huge effort and while that doesn't guarantee success, the hard work should be acknowledged," he said.

"The All-Ireland winners get all the credit and questions are asked about the rest. Take Mayo. They lost the last two finals but with a bit of luck might well have won at least one of them. Yet, you'll hear people criticising them and saying they'll win nothing.

"They should ignore that and remain positive because there's an All-Ireland in them."

O'Dwyer supports the introduction of the black card rule but has some concerns that there are now too many cards.

"Referees have to use black, yellow and red cards. It can all get a bit confusing. But if the black card helps to stamp out cynical play -- and I think it could -- then I'm all for it."

O'Dwyer will watch the action from the stands from now on and while he knows that it won't compensate for not being directly involved, he believes it's right to call time on his managerial career.

He received a few approaches after finishing with Clare last year and would be in demand again next autumn but has decided to make a clean break.

"I'll have plenty to do. There's lot of things I never got around to over the years," he said.

Irish Independent

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