From Kerry to Kildare to Laois and now to his latest project, the old maestro has inevitably managed to inject a heady cocktail of self-belief and enthusiasm into the veins of his charges. Wicklow weren’t really given a prayer and still they defied the odds to pull off the county’s first ever championship victory at GAA headquarters.
“I saw it coming,” said O’Dwyer with that customary glint in his eye, “but a lot of people around the country didn’t see it coming. We didn’t play well in the league to be honest and fair about it, but I had sight my sights on the 18th of May. Championship is the only thing that matters to me and I set that out from the day I took over teams in 1975. Championship is championship, that’s what it’s all about.”
The game wasn’t a thing of beauty, and Wicklow were probably fortunate to be level at 0-5 apiece at the interval, but after that they proved themselves to be fit, hungry and organised as they forged ahead, and then coped comfortably enough with Kildare’s muddled efforts to claw back the deficit.
Thomas Walsh and James Stafford controlled midfield despite the best efforts of Killian Brennan while Tony Hannon, Seanie Furlong and Kevin O’Neill made life difficult for the Kildare defense. The margin soon became five points midway through the second half, and instead of remaining composed and picking off their scores, Kildare completely lost their shape in a desperate search for the goal that might have turned the contest around.
As O’Dwyer and his players celebrated their success, the contrast with Kildare boss, Kieran McGeeney, couldn’t have been more marked. Kildare simply were not up for the challenge and the former Armagh great, in his first season at the helm, struggled to explain his team’s second-half collapse.
“Look at the last 10 or 15 minutes, we had chances, three or four even to make a game of it, but our decision-making was very poor. Either there’s a misunderstanding there, or I’m not doing the right kind of training. From start to finish we were poor, and the only thing that looked familiar was that we struggled to get over 10 or 11 points.”
Kildare now have to dust themselves down and prepare for the qualifiers while O’Dwyer and Wicklow will take on another of his former teams, Laois, in the quarter-finals on Saturday week.