Gaelic football reached the end of an era when Mick O’Dwyer, the legendary Kerryman, finally called time on an illustrious career.
Here in Kilkenny we are witnessing at close hand another illustrious managerial career with Brian Cody’s hugely successful reign in hurling. That shows no sign of slowing down.
Cody and O’Dwyer have a lot in common, not least their impressive haul of All-Irelands while managing their native county. Both enjoyed successful playing careers, leaving them well equipped to tackle the rigours of inter-county management.
O’Dwyer took leave of the managerial reins last week at 77 years of age. But unlike Cody, who is and will always be a one-county manager, O’Dwyer plied his managerial skills in three provinces.
It was his time managing Kerry which elevated O’Dwyer to the heights of managerial stardom. The Kerry side he managed was one of football’s greatest and their duels with Kevin Heffernan’s Dublin were consistent headline grabbing occasions.
It was his decision, though, to bring his managerial talent outside his native county that gave us a whole new insight into the passion the Kerryman had for football.
That journey took him to Kildare (twice), Laois, Wicklow and Clare. The eight All-Ireland titles he won with his native Kerry was never going to be repeated. Nevertheless, he left each of his new counties in better shape than he found them.
O’Dwyer’s first term in Kildare prompted big expectations to a county that has consistently underachieved. The GAA scene in the county took on a frenzied demeanour as the Lily Whites came in their droves to league and championship game
Unfortunately for Kildare the Kerryman’s four years ended without a trophy, but he still left a squad with lots of potential. During his time in Kildare, O’Dwyer built on a strong relationship with many people so it was no surprise when he returned four years later. This time the trophies did arrive.
Kildare supporters returned en masse and were rewarded with a Leinster title in 1998, the first since 1956. When the Lily Whites reached that year’s All-Ireland final the county went into a frenzy with every native expecting to welcome back the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time since 1928.
It didn’t happen. They were beaten by Galway. The result was a massive disappointment. Another Leinster title followed in 2002 but that was as good as it got.
The Kerryman’s next port of call was Laois, a county he regularly described as brimming with talent. His four year term ended with one Leinster title (2003).
O’Dwyer’s arrived in Wicklow was greeted with great enthusiasm. The Garden County presented a different challenge than Kildare or Laois. Perhaps his greatest legacy was the hugely increased profile which the GAA had in the county when he resigned.
He won a Tommy Murphy Cup final with Wicklow.
There was still one more stop-off ahead. Clare came calling. O’Dwyer could not resist one more shot at the inter-county scene. His tenure in Clare lasted one year.
Over recent years a couple of injuries brought on by years of playing with Kerry required treatment, but perhaps it was the death of his beloved wife, Mary Carmel which finally made O’Dwyer contemplate retirement.
His training style may be different to that used by many other managers, but who could question it when it resulted in a hugely impressive haul of eight All-Ireland titles with Kerry, plus three provincial titles with Kildare (2) and Laois (1)?
He has often spoken of his regret at not being asked to manage the Irish International Rules side. Despite views to the contrary, there was never a campaign by Croke Park not to appoint him.
O’Dwyer was never afraid to speak his mind and that is hardly going to stop now that he has retired from team management. His influence on the GAA, and particularly football, has been phenomenal. He will be greatly missed. Thanks for the memories, Micko.