Wednesday 18 July 2018

'We had some bad times but the good times overshadow all of them' - Ryan O'Dwyer calls time on Dublin career

8 July 2017; Ryan O'Dwyer of Dublin in action against Tomás Hamill of Tipperary during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 2 match between Dublin and Tipperary at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
8 July 2017; Ryan O'Dwyer of Dublin in action against Tomás Hamill of Tipperary during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Round 2 match between Dublin and Tipperary at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Co Tipperary. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Conor McKeon

Conor McKeon

REGRETS? Ryan O’Dwyer has a couple, though not enough to soil the good times.

He has hurled inter-county into his thirties, a career that started in 2007 in Tipp’s thrilling trilogy with Limerick, when ‘Babs’ Keating brought him on as an abrasive half-forward with more enthusiasm for physical contact than regard for his own personal safety.

He has won a League title and a Leinster SHC and perhaps more impressively, played three years of inter-county hurling after an unprovoked attack in Birmingham in 2015 left with with a serious brain injury.

"I always said that some f****r that I’ve never seen before over in Birmingham, he’s not going to get the better of me," he says now, having called time on his inter-county career at 31. "It was just a stubbornness."

Still, there are some regrets.

"I suppose in 2011 and definitely in 2012, I was getting a bit of media attention and I was milking it," O’Dwyer recalls.

"I should have said 'no more' because at times I made a f*****g eejit of myself.

"Journalists only write what lads say but I was saying stupid stuff. I was giving every opposition team ammunition."

His chief on-pitch regret is an obvious one.

In the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, with Dublin leading by a point in the 51st minute, James Owens issued him with a second yellow card for a robust hit on Luke O’Farrell.

"Probably a week doesn’t go by that I don’t think of it," he admits. "I don’t know if I ever will.

"I feel I let my team-mates down. I think it might have been a knock-on affect from saying stupid things in the media.

"It’s something I have to live with."

More than eight years later, O’Dwyer can still recall his first encounter with Anthony Daly.

Having missed out on Tipperary’s 2010 All-Ireland win, he relocated to Dublin.

Then, in late autumn, Richie Stakelum asked O’Dwyer to meet him and Daly in the Citywest Hotel.

O’Dwyer, then a Kilmacud Crokes club-mate of Stakelum, took a seat beside the window not long before he spotted the unmistakable figure of Daly walked towards the building.

Butterflies.

"Through the nineties, even though he was from Clare and I was from Tipp, he was up on a pedestal for me," he says.

"It was a surreal feeling. Especially when he came in and came to me."

The two struck up an instant rapport, the 'country men' in the Dublin hurling team that bridged gaps of 72 and 52 years between League and Leinster titles respectively.

Later, he would be the voice of unity behind an embattled Ger Cunningham, urging the county’s disenfranchised hurlers to put their personal differences with the manager aside to improve the county side’s lot.

"Maybe he could have handled things a bit differently," O’Dwyer admits now.

"He tried to establish rules and boundaries but not everyone bought into it.

"With ‘Dalo’, you’d go to war with him. He’d convince you. You’d stand in front of a bullet.

"If you had no training done at all and then came up against the All-Ireland champions, you would believe you could beat them because he’d make you believe that.

"But Ger didn’t have that."

Enter Pat Gilroy.

Initially, O’Dwyer hadn’t intended to come back with Dublin this year until his wife, Clíodhna, convinced him otherwise.

"She must wanted me out of the house in the evenings," jokes O’Dwyer.

"When I got back, I trained harder than I did since I came to Dublin.

"I pushed myself harder. So it was good to be part of."

Despite the outward appearance of a group with distinct fault lines, the panel unified immediately.

"I think lads were half afraid to question Pat!" O’Dwyer half jokes.

"He has that aura about him. I just think lads that came back righted a few wrongs, new lads on the panel wanted to show what they were made of.

"And the lads that were there the whole time just wanted to be successful. Everyone bought in."

He got game time in the League but drifted to the fringes for summer and after Dublin’s swansong in Salthill last month, he called for ciúnas in the dressing-room.

"I said it to the lads I’d soldiered with for the last number of years, I said 'thanks very much'. They made me feel so welcome coming in because I was taking a big chance," he says.

"From the very first moment I came in.

"Then I said to the younger lads, the years do pass quick.

"There’s no point in saying 'we’ll win it next year or we’ll win it the year after'.

"You want to win it now. Don’t be saying 'well have a good team in two years’ time'.

"That time might never come. You might not play after this year."

What’s certain is that O’Dwyer, one of the most colourful characters of a regenerative era for Dublin hurling, won’t.

"Even though we’ve had some bad times," he says in summation of it all, "the good times overshadow all of them."

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