Mick o Dwyer At 80 - The Muhammad Ali of Gaelic Football

June 14th, 2016
by Weeshie Fogarty

It's one of my favourite Mick o Dwyer stories told by the late great South Kerry football   aficionado the late Tom Keane; he summed it all up to perfection when someone once remarked to him at a function how well O'Dwyer looked. Impeccable groomed in his pin striped Sunday suit and with a quiff of dark hair that was almost as black as a ravens wing. "There is nobody in the country like him for his age" the man exclaimed to Tom, "or maybe" he added in an afterthought, "maybe not even in the whole wide world". "There isn't" says Tom, "or in the next world".  Two weeks ago his beloved Waterville pulled out all the stops to honour their greatest ever son as he celebrated his 80th birthday and boy did they surpass themselves as GAA personalities came from far and wide in acknowledgement of his remarkable sporting life. No man deserved it more.

Mick O Dwyer was the greatest club footballer I have ever seen and this county has produced many of the greatest ever to grace a field. But in my opinion there was nobody to equal him for sheer consistency whether he played for Waterville in defence, mid field or in the forwards. He was always at the peak of fitness, built like a thank and as strong as bell metal but it was his sheer determination, passion and undying will to win every single game with Waterville that came shining through most of all. His inter county career as player./manager/trainor and selector is well documented but for me Dwyer the club man remains etched in the memory most of all.

One of the most pleasant, chivalrous and courteous men you would ever wish to meet, he has time for everyone and in the many interviews  and discussions I have had with him over the years you would always learn something new about him. If you sit back and think carefully about the man his life is divided in different compartments and he has been highly successful in each one. Mick O Dwyer the devoted husband and father, the highly successful business man, the player, the manager/trainor and Dwyer the snappy dresser both on the side line and off the field.

He was always on the go from a young age, each hour and day of the week was precious to him, he served his apprenticeship as a mechanic in Lucy's garage  Wauerville, saved up his wages and at just twenty years of age he bought the garage from the Lucy brothers. He was displaying even back then how he was prepared to take a chance, how determined he was to do things his way, the garage was a huge success.

He took over his father's taxi business, became a car salesman, and even entered the world of undertaking. In 1965 an old Ford Granada was purchased in Dublin for £150 and converted into a hearse.  I have vivid memories of him driving the hearse, coffin in the back through Killarney on his way home to Waterville. His shrewdness and expertise developed as a young man was brought to great use later in life as the Kerry manager when he brokered brilliant deals for his players with the Bendix washing machine company and world renowned Adidas sports firm. He was far ahead of everyone else in the GAA world as regards securing sponsorship.

But football was his first love, he once told me in an interview, "I would love to have been a professional footballer, playing any kind of football, soccer, American football, Australian Rules but Gaelic football is my first passion". In 1970 I was on tour with Kerry in Australia where we played the home side in Sydney with the oval ball. Kerry unbelievably beat the home side and the star of the show, you guessed it, Dwyer. He took to the new game like a duck to water.

I first saw him play in the county final of 1955 when South Kerry beat North Kerry following a re-play in Tralee. The passage of time has naturally dimmed the memory but I vividly recall that drawn game and the huge cheer that rent the air when Micko fielded high, turned and kick a mighty point to draw the game. That year South Kerry won their first title since 1897.

What Mick o Dwyer did for Waterville as a player, trainor and leader is one of the greatest Kerry GAA stories of this county. In 1965-66-67 they played fifty competitive games and lost only one. It was a truly unbelievable achievement by such a tiny community. They won South Kerry championships, the Towns Cup, county leagues, the county junior championship and the Kerry club championship. In 1973 Waterville led by 37 year old Mick achieved one of their greatest achievements when they won the All-Ireland seven-a-side championship in Dublin beating Bryansford Co Down. He finished top scorer in the event. They had lost the final the previous year to the very same opponents. 

 I have vivid memories of Dwyer powering his way through teke tough defences blasting the ball to the net or raising white flags. He would regularly score seven, eight, nine or ten points with goals thrown in. He was as good a free taker, from then ground back then as anyone in the country and was also least we forget Kerry's leading inter county scorer for three years in a row. 

Waterville had tremendous battles with Kenmare around that time and Kenmare barber, Pete Hanley who faced the best scoring forwards having played in goal for Kerry in all grades recalls Micko as the most feared opponent he has ever faced. "He had a shot like a rocket", recalled Pete "and if he got within twenty one yards of you with the old pig skin football his drive was simply unstoppable. He was easily the greatest player I ever saw and even in today's game he would be top man".

So successful and dominant were Waterville under Micko they were forced to enter the senior county championship and I had a close up view of him as with East Kerry we played them in three county finals, 1968-69-70. Tiny Waterville with such a small pick up against the pick of thirteen clubs and packed with inter county footballers and in one of those finals we were so fortunate to win by a goal, 1-15 to 0-15.

I can see him crystal clear after all those years in the mind's eye, powering his way all over the field, leading by example, shouting for the ball, urging on his men, the three o Shea's, Timothy, Sean and James, the Cronin's, Noel and Gerard, two Donnelly's, Brendie and Kevin and two Clifford's, and my friend Batty Galvan at full back, first cousin of Micko. Legendary Kerry players are synonymous from where they came from, Mick o Connell, Valentia, Pat Spillane Templenoe, Paidi o Se Ventry, Seamus Moynihan Glenflesk and Mick o Dwyer from Waterville the club that made him. Mick o Dwyer the Muhammad Ali of Gaelic football. I could write about him all day.  

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom