Wednesday 23 January 2019

O'Dwyer an unexpected but logical choice to further the cause of hurling

GAA president John Horan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Of all the new GAA president's men, and women, announced to chair his various committees over the next three years, the choice for head of Hurling Development was one of the more low-key. Outside of Dublin, where he has been coaching clubs, schools and county for many years, Jimmy O'Dwyer isn't a name that will ring many bells.

This he readily acknowledges, saying he got a surprise phone call from incoming GAA president John Horan asking him to take over from Paudie O'Neill. Last year he was involved with the Castleknock minor hurling team, the club to which he is now attached, having moved there from Templeogue over 10 years ago.

Who is he? O'Dwyer is a native of Templemore in Tipperary and a retired primary school teacher who in recent years was national co-ordinator of the GAA's Cúl Camps. He moved to Dublin in 1969 and immediately began coaching, starting with his first teaching post at St Canice's in Finglas. A move to work in Templeogue, where he worked at Bishop Galvin National School, led to him settling there and he became a founding member of the St Jude's club in 1978.

"It was predominantly football in the beginning but then around '82 a group of us started hurling and it took off then," he says. St Jude's are now one of the leading hurling forces in Dublin, reaching two county senior finals in recent years.

"I suppose the most important thing is to consolidate what is there already," O'Dwyer says of his new brief. "There has been great work done with the Celtic Challenge. The main thing is to try to get more participation as much as possible. My philosophy is that every child in the country should get an opportunity to sample hurling at some stage of their life. If they like it they like it. If they don't they at least get a crack at it.

"Organising that on a 32-county level is a mammoth task if you think about it. When we started off in St Jude's what we did was we would have an open hurling night one night of the week even before we had teams in competition. That can be a model."

O'Neill, whom he replaced, had much success with the Celtic Challenge for under 17s which is open to non-exam students around the country and tiered according to ability, backed by clever innovations and promotions and a replacement for the now defunct minor B and C competitions. Those former competitions were run off like a blitz, leaving very little exposure to county minor hurling for many of the weaker counties. The Celtic Challenge gives players five group games and the prospect of more in the play-offs over a longer period of time. It has worked and all counties take part, some of the stronger counties sending more than one team.

O'Dwyer has been involved in the rise of Dublin hurling too, having been part of the backroom team that had an early development squad at under 14 in 1998, featuring future Dublin hurler Michael Carton. O'Dwyer helped take that team to minor in 2002 and was a mentor when Dublin minors made a significant breakthrough three years later when winning the Leinster minor title for the first time since 1983.

He knows John Horan since that time, as Horan was hitched to the county minor football team and there were several players turning out for both. To make that mutually beneficial needed compromise on both sides and the period helped forge a relationship that has stood the test of time. Simple measures to stimulate hurling, and good innovative coaches, are what he will be looking for in the next three years.

"I know of situations in other counties where initiatives have started and I know of one situation in Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim where they have held Friday night hurling sessions for the last few years and they don't restrict it to their own club. I know children from outlying clubs can go in and be coached and get practice. Simple initiatives like that.

"A lot of it is to do with the person, with the coach. I call it the Pied Piper syndrome. If you can put the right people in the right places. Now that's not easy. Investing in that type of people is part of the plan I have."

He says the call from Horan was totally unexpected. But coaching and encouraging hurling to grow is what he has spent much of the last 50 years doing. "It's been my life really," as he says.

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