Not that an O’Byrne Cup game against Longford would have generated much interest anyway, so the few thousand spectators who braved the chill were there to witness a bit of GAA history as much to watch their county in action. Because when O’Dwyer took his seat in the dugout, he was marking his 50th year of intercounty football as player and manager.
It is a staggering achievement and a testimony to the man’s commitment and durability. At 66, the fire still burns.
“Just the 50th year, and it’s going on and going on all the time,” he said after watching his new team lose, 0-13 to 0-10. “Well, I’m still getting great enjoyment out of it, and as long as I enjoy it, I’ll keep with it. Simple as that.
“It’s early in the year and I hadn’t seen that Laois team play apart from training, so it was useful. I had the same start with Kildare, if you think back, so I’d only hope that it would work along the same lines here as it did there. But we have a lot of work today and it would be unfair to take too much out of this game.”
Despite Longford’s impressive victory, which has earned them a quarterfinal against Meath, O’Dwyer has already created a few ripples as Laois attempt to break free from the doldrums and win a first Leinster senior title since 1946. Hughie Emerson has decided against retirement after all and the talented Colm Parkinson has returned to the fold. Along with Ian Fitzgerald and Brian McDonald, there is the making of potent forward line come the summer.
However, it was Longford’s full forward, Padraig Shanley, who caught the eye with an excellent performance. He kicked four points from play and his strong direct running regularly tested the Laois defense. Midfielder Liam Keenan also made his mark, while Damien Delaney and Fitzgerald kept the losers in the hunt with some accurate freetaking.
Elsewhere in the O’Byrne Cup, Westmeath got the better of Louth by 0-13 to 0-11 at Drogheda, where Fergal Wilson kicked seven points, including three frees. Holders Carlow fell at the first hurdle as Wicklow came through by 2-12 to 2-9 at Aughrim, and there was a predictably comfortable 0-17 to 1-6 victory for Wexford over Kilkenny.
O SE CONFIRMS OFFER
Meanwhile, Kerry manager Paidi O Se confirmed last week that he has invited Maurice Fitzgerald to rejoin the county panel. Fitzgerald, who was controversially used by O Se as a substitute during Kerry’s 2000 All Ireland winning campaign, was unavailable last season and it was widely believed that his intercounty career was over.
However, following strong indications that Fitzgerald was contemplating a comeback, O Se has indicated that he would be keen to have the player return to the fold.
“I’d love to have Maurice back, all the team would, but that is a matter totally for him,” O Se told the Sunday Independent. “I have invited him back, but he’s a very private person and I don’t want this to be seen as an attempt to turn up the heat on him.
“There was a perception that a conflict between myself and Maurice was the stumbling block to his return. Not true. Maurice and myself have a very good relationship, there has never been a strain between us and I’ve never stood in the way of his return.”
While Fitzgerald has yet to comment, O Se added that the training regime devised by John O’Keeffe would be more flexible in order to accommodate players such as Fitzgerald.
One hundred years after the county’s first All-Ireland title, Kerry will be attempting to make up for the disappointment of last season’s loss in the final in Armagh, and for the humiliation against Meath in the 2001 semifinal.
DUBLIN-ARMAGH FOR CROKER
In a departure from recent seasons, Dublin will open their National Football League campaign with a game against All-Ireland champions Armagh at Croke Park. In an effort to capitalize on the interest in Dublin, the Feb. 2 game has been moved from Parnell Park to the GAA headquarters in anticipation of an attendance in excess of 40,000.
“We talk a lot about the money involved in Croke Park and the cost of opening it,” said Dublin’s manager, Tommy Lyons, “but to me the best money Croke Park will spend this year is opening the stadium for a game like this. The stadium is our best marketing tool.”
It was also announced that if Dublin’s hurlers beat Meath in the opening round of the Walsh Cup, the semifinal game against Wexford will be staged as a curtain raiser to the football tie against Armagh.