October 9, 2006. It was the day on which North Korea conducted nuclear weapon tests for the actual aboriginal time, appropriately instigated this aberrant allure with whether or not they could become a all-around existential threat. It was additionally Thanksgiving, in Canada. If you were a Wicklow football adherent at the time, you would not accept been anytime acquainted of it, as it was the day on which the canton alone its own, abstract affliction on an biting audience.
ational columnist had awash into the Westbury Hotel in Dublin on that Monday afternoon. A few months earlier, Wicklow had angled out of the Leinster championship in the aboriginal round, at the easily of Carlow, and had concluded basal of Analysis 2B of the National Alliance beforehand in the year. Accustomed the rather low contour of the aggregation at the time, accepting such absorption fatigued appear the allotment of Hugh Kenny’s almsman in the authoritative hotseat would accept been somewhat unusual.
This was not a accepted appointment, however. It was on that day, belted by then-county administrator Mick Hagan, and Roscommon agent Sean Mulryan, whose company, Ballymore Properties, had been appear as sponsors for the 2007 season, that the allegorical Mick O’Dwyer, who had crafted an incomparable bequest for himself over the decades prior, was clearly accustomed the reigns.
Such was the absorption that was paid to the O’Dwyer development, that the eyes of media were durably casting appear the story. Accepting a allegorical personality booty allegation of a lower bank canton fabricated for an alike added tantalising narrative. As a result, Mick O’Hagan remembered how the lath had been inundated with questions and requests aback the adventure best up steam.
Off the scent
‘The media were addictive us, left, right, and centre,’ O’Hagan said. ‘”Who was advancing to Wicklow?” And we told a lot of lies on accessible candidates. We had mentioned Sean Boylan a brace of times. We were cogent the media that to accumulate them off the scent.
Mick O’Dwyer speaks to the Wicklow players afterwards their defeat to Armagh in the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2011 – his aftermost bold as administrator of the Garden County. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
O’Hagan was one of three men tasked with award the almsman for Hugh Kenny, who had larboard the column afterward their Leinster championship defeat to Louth beforehand in the year. Alongside O’Hagan were Jimmy Dunne and Billy Timmons; according to Mick, the latter’s access beyond the GAA branch were how they aboriginal got an clue that O’Dwyer would be absorbed in demography the job.
Regardless of that knowledge, aback negotiations bore fruit, O’Hagan was accommodating to accept that it came as article of a surprise. The force of the arrangement alleged for article special, appropriately the action in the Westbury Hotel.
‘Normally, in any county, you accept to go to the administration lath and afresh the canton lath to accredit (the new manager) but, on this occasion, we, as canton officers, took a altered road. We had a canton lath affair above-mentioned to activity to management, on the base that we knew we were on to a champ and everybody would be abaft it.
‘What happened afresh was that there were alike crowds aural the county, they abounding a lot of the training sessions, as well. Wicklow people, in general. The accomplished of Wicklow rode in abaft it and the players rode in abaft the appointment. It absolutely brought a army to the games, at club level, canton level, and training sessions.’
The shock appear O’Dwyer’s arrangement continued to abounding of the players. Tony Hannon was in assignment in Dublin aback the account came through, and abundant like those complex in the alternative process, he could not absolutely accept that it had happened.
‘I couldn’t absolutely accept it on the radio, that Mick O’Dwyer was activity to be managing Wicklow,’ Hannon remembered. ‘We never absolutely had anybody of that adeptness before. Like I said, it was a bit astonishing that it was happening, but as anon as I heard the news, I was cerebration I absolutely capital to be allotment of that.’
A four-time All-Ireland and 12-time Munster best with Kerry in his arena days, O’Dwyer is long-since advised the greatest administrator in GAA history. As Kerry boss, he won eight All-Ireland titles and 11 Munster titles in the 1970s and 1980s. Elsewhere, he spurred Kildare and Laois on to two Leinster championships and one of the same, respectively, afore he alone bottomward the tiers to administer the Garden.
‘Now I am not adage we are activity to win a bigoted appellation or annihilation like that this year,’ the abundant man said on the day of his actualization in the Westbury Hotel. ‘But I assure you, we are activity to accession the accepted of football in Wicklow.’
Wicklow would not win a bigoted appellation in the four years and seven months that he was at the helm, but the now-84-year-old afflicted the acumen of the aggregation over that time. Appropriate up until he larboard the column in July 2011, about 10 years ago, the canton enjoyed some of its best admired memories on a football field.
One allegation alone attending to the appeal to comedy for the aggregation for affirmation as to the burning aftereffect his actuality administrator had on the atmosphere about the squad. Not alone was there an acquisitive admirers for training sessions, according to O’Hagan, but there are the tales of pre-season balloon matches that generally drew over 100 players admiring to affect advanced of the 2007 campaign.
‘He came beyond as a active legend. We had alone anytime apparent him on TV, or actuality like that,’ Hannon said. ‘You were anon met with a faculty of fun and he was activity to accept a bit of fun and assignment hard, at the aforementioned time. You had a abundant atmosphere in the place. He meant business, but there’s consistently activity to be time for enjoyment. It wasn’t that it wasn’t activity to be authentic abuse all the time.
‘The numbers agitated at a high-level, for a while. There were 40/45/50 guys training, added generally than not, during that aboriginal season. You aloof bethink the antagonism to get into the band or to get into the 15. It was mad at the time, it absolutely was. The appeal for bodies to get into the aggregation absolutely spurred anybody on because, like I said, you accept to action to get into the squad. He was able enough. He knew assertive players would alone be advancing into a bit of conditioning, so we larboard them aback and gave added guys who wouldn’t accept had abundant of a chance.’
The furore about the O’Dwyer-Wicklow adventure embodied itself in ahead abrupt advantage during the O’Byrne Cup in 2007. Wicklow’s aperture game, a 1-12 to 2-6 win over Carlow, was televised on Setanta Sports, as was their chase up achievement over Wexford in the added round.
Not alone that, but the new manager-team activating spawned a arresting bulk of artifice appear matches, from all corners. Paddy Dalton, accepted Wicklow Minor football manager, anecdotal his shock at seeing Paul McGrath – above Ireland and Manchester United apostle – alfresco the bathrobe room, speaking to reporters, afterwards one accurate game.
‘Arthur would accept had abundant connections. The bodies who would be advancing to our games, you wouldn’t believe. I anticipate Arthur had two of the capital guys from Microsoft one day for a alliance game. They came into our ataxia in the bathrobe room, and we gave them a bandage and a hat. I anticipate some of the top guys in one of the Microsoft, or Facebook, or something,’ Dalton appear with a laugh.
Before O’Dwyer took over, Wicklow had not won a championship bout aback assault London in the aboriginal annular of the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2002; the aforementioned year in which Wicklow won the Junior championship. That dry spell concluded in 2007. Accepting been baffled by Louth in the aperture annular of the bigoted championship, they entered the Tommy Murphy Cup, a forerunner to the Tailteann Cup. They accustomed Offaly in the aboriginal annular of the antagonism on July 7, 2007. They won 1-16 to 1-11 on the day; a achievement which kicked off a run that concluded with achievement over Antrim in Croke Park on August 4 for the county’s aboriginal allotment of apparatus aback that Junior appellation bristles years earlier.
When Tommy Gill got that acceptable ambition in extra-time on August 4, 2007, it was the aboriginal adumbration as to what Wicklow would do beneath ‘Micko’, abnormally from a championship point of view. Their alliance advance fortunes did not change all that abundant beneath the Kerryman.
From 2007 to 2011, Wicklow won 19 amateur from 39 played. As the years went on, they would get afterpiece to aggressive out of the basement division, though. In 2010, they best up bristles wins and 11 points, accepting them to aural two credibility of accepting promoted. The afterward year, O’Dwyer’s last, they got abutting by acceptable four amateur and afresh acrimonious up 11 points, accident aloof once. Unfortunately, that distinct defeat came at the easily of Roscommon, and which prevented them from sending them up to Analysis 3 by aloof one point.
While success in the alliance was harder to appear by, Wicklow got on a lot bigger aback the championship came around. A lot of this was put bottomward the appalling apprenticeship aggregation that had been accumulated by O’Dwyer, with Kevin O’Brien, Phillip McGillycuddy, Arthur French, and Gerry Farrell, as able-bodied as Jimmy Whittle and Martin Coleman alive abaft the scenes. As for the players at their disposal, it was a who’s who of abreast Wicklow heroes. Tony Hannon, Dara Ó hAnnaidh, Leighton Glynn, James Stafford, Tommy Gill, Seanie Furlong, Paul Earls, Paddy Dalton, Ciaran Hyland, and so abounding added fabricated up one of the best accomplished Wicklow teams anytime assembled.
They followed up accident to Louth in the aperture annular of the ’07 bigoted run and the Tommy Murphy Cup celebration with a acclaimed achievement over Kildare – who played Analysis 1 football that year – in the Leinster championship in 2008 in Croke Park, as able-bodied as addition run to the final of Tommy Murphy, which they concluded up accident to Antrim.
If there was a aiguille for this Wicklow team, it was 2009. While the alliance analysis was middling – they accomplished with a almanac of three wins, two draws, and three defeats – they, already again, fabricated it to the quarter-finals of the Leinster championship, for the added beeline year. That adeptness to bullwork out wins at a aerial affiliated was a authentication of the O’Dwyer era and was at its best axiomatic in the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2009.
Magic of 2009
First, it was the appointment of Fermanagh to Aughrim on July 4. Admitting accident Tony Hannon and Tommy Walsh to dismissals, they squeaked out a 0-17 to 1-11 win which meant that O’Dwyer had fabricated history as accepting baffled every canton as manager. There was no blow for the weary, however. A anniversary later, on July 11, addition Ulster side, Cavan, came to town. Already again, it was Fortress Aughrim, as Wicklow came abroad with the added adequate 1-12 to 0-8 victory.
In annular three, the penultimate run of qualifiers, Wicklow already afresh went up adjoin an Ulster county, this time in the anatomy of Down, and already afresh at home. Wicklow had never been this far in the All-Ireland alternation and were on the border of acceptable a top 12 ancillary in the country with a aerial scalp.
A bold that Wicklow led for ample stretches had the best affecting of abstracts in injury-time. Afterwards the visitors had appear aback to accelerate the abandon into the three account of added time level, a JP Dalton canyon begin James Stafford, whose goalbound attempt was repelled by the Bottomward goalkeeper.
With the final bang of what was a arresting game, Tony Hannon stepped up and confidently stroked the consistent 45 beeline amid the posts. Cue celebrations and affirmation of an activity that was accustomed throughout Wicklow football at the time.
It was about absolutely the acme of the team’s powers. The alone downside to the arresting adventure was that they could not pay it off with a win over Kildare in Portlaoise on July 25. Had they appear out on top, it would accept set them up for a quarter-final affair with 2009 Ulster champions and then-reigning All-Ireland holders, Tyrone.
‘You affectionate of attending aback on it now, it is how abounding years now? 11 years and you still conceiving about it, at times,’ Tony Hannan pondered. ‘Wasn’t it abundant to comedy week-to-week in the championship and you’re advanced through the circuit and the draw was fabricated every Monday morning and you’re alert in to see who you get. Training was aerial at the time. It was amazing to be involved, it absolutely was, in agreement of how it all came about.’
They would go on to abide their accomplished championship almanac in 2010 with a win over Carlow in the aperture annular of Leinster, alone for them to abatement to the antagonistic Cavan in the aboriginal annular of qualifiers, despite, at one point, captivation a lead. Hannon remembers that Cavan defeat as actuality decidedly difficult to take, as there was a agnosticism as to whether O’Dwyer would stick about for addition year. In the end, he did, and the final season, in 2011, featured a win over Sligo in the qualifiers, afore actuality afterwards agape out by Armagh in the added annular on July 16. That would prove to be O’Dwyer’s swansong in the authoritative hotseat, as he larboard anon thereafter. Over the advance of the bristles seasons, including the Tommy Murphy Cup, Wicklow won 14 championship matches, accent by that amazing run in 2009.
‘None of that atom would accept appear about if it wasn’t for Micko,’ Hannon insisted. ‘There was abundant aptitude about the abode and acceptable players but, for years and years and years, we aloof struggled to get anybody on the aforementioned page. Micko managed to do that, and he managed to do it with style. You’re accustomed a contour and bit of a platform, and because it was Micko’s team, everybody acquainted 10 anxiety tall. Anybody was awash with confidence.’
Paddy Dalton, who was able to break in blow with Mick O’Dwyer afterward his abandonment through his affiliation with Mick’s son, Karl, and Coolkenno, has addicted memories of the man. While the training sessions were taxing, as would be expected, Dalton – who accepted to actuality a allotment of a self-entitled, catch-up ‘Fat Camp’, due to actuality in Australia during the aboriginal few weeks of training – said that Micko would actively accomplish it a little bit added antic and casual, including arduous Arthur French, a abutting acquaintance of the Kerryman throughout his tenure, to advertise his own abilities during a wet and airy training affair in Rathdrum, admitting French actuality decked out in a suit.
‘He was a ablaze character,’ Dalton said. ‘The harder the training got, the added craic he had with you. He would about booty your apperception off how adamantine the training was activity to be. From the minute you absolved into the bathrobe room, he would be up, chatting and accepting the craic with you.
‘We would be out, night afterwards night afterwards night, arena matches. You ability get four nights in a row, aloof football, football, football, continuously. If article happened and he admired it, he could stop the game. Seanie (Furlong) ability cull article off and Micko would adulation it If lads went into a accouterment – I anticipate it was Nicky Mernagh and ‘Bruiser’ (Stephen Byrne) went into a accouterment one day and the two lads about dead anniversary other. He chock-full the training, he admired it so much.
‘No amount what anatomy we were in, he was consistently in acceptable form, abnormally aback kids came in afterwards games. He’d be abiding to accord them time. He knew the albatross he had. There are bodies who do things for jobs. He absolutely enjoyed it. You could see it by him. He admired actuality out in the field, abnormally in training. Aback we’d be out accomplishing laps, he’d be all bedlam and admiring the lads blame themselves, and he’d be advancing in with a bold smile and saying, “that was a admirable amount of laps. I anticipate we will change the administration and go seven this way, lads.”‘
A accepted denominator in Dalton’s belief about Micko, is the attendance of Arthur French: the man who was absolutely in allegation on the amusement aback Wicklow won the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2007. Dalton remembered how Dwyer and French were affiliated to a alarming twosome. Aback Wicklow won the cup in ’07, the aggregation acclaimed by activity on a cruise to New York. On the flight over to the States, Dalton told how French and O’Dwyer were playfully hitting anniversary added punches, abundant to the annoyance of the flight attendant.
‘Mick and Arthur would be like two kids activity around,’ Dalton attested. ‘I remember, afterwards one training session, they were activity through the Mayo aggregation that aftermost won the All-Ireland [in 1951). They were about able to do annotation that was actuality done on the day; the job the corner-back had, the jobs this or that lad had.’
In the ten years aback Mick O’Dwyer’s abandonment in July 2011, Wicklow accept enjoyed some degrees of success. The actual abutting season, in 2012, beneath the administration of Harry Murphy, their absorbing championship almanac embodied itself in the alliance via acceptable Analysis 4 and assuredly aggressive out of the basement tier, while 2020 was accent by accepting promotion, while they additionally exhausted Wexford in the championships afore actuality assiduously baffled by Meath in the quarter-finals.
However, it will be actual difficult to bout what the aggregation did amid 2007 and 2011, beneath the advice of Mick O’Dwyer. From acceptable the Tommy Murphy Cup in 2007, to the attic of Kildare in 2008, to the fairytale run through the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2009, and the rest. O’Dwyer’s is a administration that will be adamantine to replicate, and alike harder to top in the years to come.
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