Not alone had his team appeared hopelessly listless in the second half against a rampant Dublin, but on the face of it anyway, the spark in the manager had been extinguished. A great player and a legendary coach with Kerry, afterwards charged with the job of revitalizing first Kildare and then Laois, Mick O’Dwyer was ready to cash in his chips.
Admittedly, Laois still had a lifeline through the qualifiers, but next they had to jump the hurdle of none other than Tyrone, the reigning All Ireland champions. Now Tyrone had lost the influential Brian McGuigan, but while they weren’t firing on all cylinders, this was surely a bridge too far for O’Dwyer and his dispirited players.
Tyrone brought their swagger to Portlaoise last weekend, and it wasn’t just Laois who were transformed. As his team demonstrated urgency and a commitment that had been sorely lacking against Dublin, O’Dwyer was once again prowling the sideline with that old glint in his eye.
Laois’s deserved victory by three points didn’t simply cut Tyrone off in their prime and deny them the opportunity of back-to-back titles, it also breathed new life into their veteran manager.
In fact, there were times during the game when O’Dwyer came over more like a 16th player such was his state of animation. He cajoled, roared, intervened to drag defender Paul McDonald away from a scuffle and then subjected referee John Geaney to a sustained volley of criticism at the half-time break.
“Maybe I got a bit carried away,” said O’Dwyer afterwards, “but maybe that was me lacking in sense. Maybe I’m getting a little senile at this stage. I got plenty of stick after the Dublin game, they said I was over the hill, that I shouldn’t be managing the team and all that kind of stuff, that I should’ve gone away earlier in the year.
“But this team is not about Mick O’Dwyer, it’s about Laois and its footballers. They gave everything, they harried, they challenged, they blocked. They were all champions. The pundits got it wrong this time.”
There is a distinct possibility now that O’Dwyer will receive a sideline ban for his treatment of the referee, but last weekend that was the furthest thing from his mind. “I’ll tell you something else, I got really involved in that game there. It was one of the most enjoyable hour and 10 minutes that I’ve spent on a sideline, and I’ve been there many a long day.”
All the portents were for a day which would keep Tyrone on course for further glory, and which would sound a bell for O’Dwyer, but then Portlaoise threw up a performance and a result that had the GAA community scratching its head. Laois now take on Meath in round three.
Got to hand it to Micko.
In the aftermath of his county’s draw with Kerry in the Munster football final in Killarney last weekend, Cork selector John Corcoran paused for a moment, and then offered his assessment. “We didn’t finish the deal, but I guarantee you we’ll finish it in Pairc Ui Chaoimh next Sunday.”
Based on the evidence of the drawn game, Corcoran could well be right. A young, ebullient Cork team infused with self-belief and only lacking in that vital touch of championship experience, had a slow-footed Kerry exactly where they wanted them.
The fact that Kerry clawed their way back into the contest and lived to fight another day was mostly because this Kerry side doesn’t do losing in Munster. And it is likely that they won’t play as poorly again.
But if Kerry were surprisingly affected by an overall malaise, the most substantial question mark now hangs over their star forward, Colm Cooper. At this stage of the championship last year, he had amassed 3-12 from play with his customary sparkling brand of efficiency and opportunism. His total from play after games against Waterford, Limerick and now Cork? Zero.
It’s not that Cooper is sleepwalking his way through the matches. If his surprising lack of form is due to disinterest, manager Jack O’Connor would have made the call from the sideline. In fact, Cooper distributed intelligently last Sunday, but most of his contributions were much too far from the opponent’s goal.
For some reason, he no longer patrols the area where in the past he has done the most damage. Looking hesitant and indecisive when the uprights come into range, he has lost his confidence when it comes to scoring. He has knocked over the paltry total of four frees this summer, when usually he would have twice that amount per game from play.
So, what is eating the Gooch? On one level, he doesn’t appear as fit as in recent seasons. If his conditioning program has been to the Kerry management’s satisfaction, then he could be tired, burnt out by too much football in too short a time. There is a also a school of thought that he is still at an emotional low following the death of his father Mike last March.
Whatever the reason, the quicksilver forward, who, in the eyes of many observers, had more talent than the likes of Steven McDonnell, Enda Muldoon, Mattie Forde and Owen Mulligan, has been badly off the pace.
Last Sunday, with Graham Canty doing an excellent man-marking job, Cooper provided Kerry with no cutting edge whatsoever. If he remains in his shell during Sunday’s replay in Cork, John Corcoran’s bullish prophecy could well come true.
Two years ago, Paul McGinley was a long way from playing in the Ryder Cup. He had undergone knee surgery, his game wasn’t particularly sharp, and after sinking the putt that sunk the Americans at the Belfry in 2002, he was in real danger of missing out on an event that had re-energized his career.
So, he began a long, exhausting run of tournaments in an effort to qualify for the Europe team. Most players deflect questions about the Ryder Cup, preferring to concentrate on the here and now rather than something in the future, but McGinley fronted up. He made no secret of the fact that he was desperate to butt heads with the Americans again, and he would run himself into the ground to play at Oakland Hills.
Where others would have wearied, McGinley relished the challenge, playing virtually non-stop for best part of two and half months and working his way up through the standings. Ten players won their places by right, and he took the ninth place with yet another high finish in the final qualifying tournament in Munich.
A couple of years on, after a victory in the prestigious Volvo Masters, McGinley appeared to have booked his place for Ireland’s Ryder Cup at the K Club in September. This time, there would be much less toil and sacrifice and he would breeze into the team.
But somewhere along the way, his attempt stalled. Suddenly, out of form and out of touch, he was struggling simply to make a cut rather than producing one of his trademark consistent performances. It got to the point last month, that this most patriotic of players was at risk of watching the first Ryder Cup ever staged in Ireland on TV.
Europe captain, Ian Woosnam, said he would have a comforting word before last week’s European Open at the K Club, but it didn’t appear to have worked. Just when McGinley needed to earn a decent check to get him over the qualifying line, it looked as if he was going to miss the cut.
In 91st place after he had finished his second round last Sunday, McGinley headed to Dublin airport resigned to catching a flight back home to London. With the airport in chaos following a bomb scare, his flight was delayed and as he waited, his wife phoned to say that conditions were worsening at the K Club and that the cut mark was rising by the minute.
So, he took a chance, asked for his bags to be taken off the flight and returned to the course where he found out he had after all made it through to the weekend. But could he turn this unexpected break to his advantage? From nowhere in the tournament, he shot 67, 69 in dreadful conditions to finish fourth and to almost secure his place in the Ryder Cup team.
“The job’s not done, I want to make the team running, I want to sprint over the line,” he said. “But the K Club was a turning point, it was like prising the door open again. I felt like I was swimming against the tide the last six months. There’s a large weight off my mind that I’ve produced quality golf again.”
Somehow, Ireland’s Ryder Cup wouldn’t be the same without Paul McGinley.