Dubs boss' delight as the Ryan line reopens
O'Dwyer's head injury trauma is now firmly in the past as he resumes full-contact training with Dublin hurlers
The Tuesday night just gone was a momentous one for Ryan O'Dwyer. For the first time since suffering a life-threatening head injury at the end of last October, he had his first full-contact training session with the Dublin hurlers.
O'Dwyer's career, or even worse, could have been KO'd in that unprovoked assault outside a Birmingham nightclub.
But the Tipp native was determined to battle back from this deeply traumatic event, and his return has come as a timely fillip for the entire Dublin camp as thoughts turn towards next month's Leinster SHC opener against Wexford.
"Good news on that front," revealed Dubs boss Ger Cunningham, speaking at yesterday's launch of the Bord Gáis Energy U21 hurling championship. "Ryan has got the all-clear and he's been back doing some non-contact hurling for the last two or three weeks, and got the all-clear to go back fully - so he did his first full-contact session (on Tuesday night) with us.
"I think he played ten minutes for (Kilmacud) Crokes in a league match last Saturday, but he was back in fully last night. And back being Ryan O'Dwyer!"
Once back up to match speed, the 29-year-old offers the type of physicality and ball-winning prowess that Dublin have lost in the last week with the retirement of Conal Keaney.
While Cunningham lavished praise on Keaney's Sky Blue legacy, he was thrilled to have O'Dwyer back. "He gives us that physical presence that we need," said the Corkman.
He described it as "a long road" back for O'Dwyer, who laid bare the severity of his predicament in an exclusive Herald interview at the start of March. Then, he recalled how the medical specialists had been "really positive at the start. But later, they also told me how serious it could have been. That they've seen situations like mine where people had speech problems or motor skills (issues) or worse."
Cunningham surmised: "I think he took a bit of time out to assess how serious it was. But I think what came through to us was Ryan's passion, his real passion for hurling, and he really wanted to get back.
"Once he made up his mind to do it, he had to be patient, because the medical people were telling him he had to take a bit of time and it would be towards April/May before he would be back.
"But it's a great boost to us that he's back in now, and he'll be playing club championship next week," he added.
"At the end of the day he just wants to play hurling. He has a fanatical interest in it; and he missed it.
"You'd see him at training, he got very frustrated at times, not being able to get back involved and having to take time and be patient. But now that he's got the all-clear, he's great - and it's good for him too."
As for Keaney's retirement, the Dublin manager inferred that there was little point indulging in any arm-twisting once the 33-year-old had made up his mind.
"We had chats about it earlier on in the year and he was totally focussing on Ballyboden, on the football side of it, so it wasn't a huge surprise," Cunningham outlined.
"You know, Conal is his own man. He knew that the focus was going to be on the All-Ireland club up until March and he was going to miss a period of time … we had a good chat about it, and he had made his intention known."
He described the versatile veteran as a "phenomenal servant for Dublin" in two codes over 15 years.
"He got an All Star nomination in 2003," Cunningham pointed out. "But at the height of his career, 2011-12 when he came back (to hurling), sure he was a phenomenal player.
"We played him last year at wing-back in a couple of matches, and he was that good that he was able to adapt, to be able to go from being an excellent forward to being a very good defender as well.
"Excellent hurler, really. He had everything - great skill, great touch, great hand, great strength. At the height of his career he had the accident - that's when he was at his best, the time he had the motorbike accident (in 2011). But a great hurler to watch."
He conceded that Dublin will "miss that leadership in the dressing-room, there's no doubt, but you'd be hoping to find some new leaders and give the young fellas a chance to put their hand up for selection as well."
Following their recent league exit to Limerick, Dublin won't re-enter the competitive cauldron for another five-and-a-bit weeks - against Wexford in Croke Park on Saturday, May 21 (7.0). However, even that may not be enough time for long-term knee injury victims Peter Kelly and Cian Boland.
Kelly hasn't played since dislocating a knee on club duty with Lucan Sarsfields last September; he subsequently underwent surgery.
"We were hoping he'd be able to play some part in the league. At this stage he'd be certainly a doubt for the championship match against Wexford," Cunningham admitted.
"He is still rehabbing it and he is not back on the pitch yet ... these things can be slow.
"Cian is still a couple of weeks away from playing. He has come back at different times and had a few setbacks in between. He's got to rest it and give it a chance to recover fully. The championship is an achievable target for him, but he must be a doubt."
There is better news regarding Niall Corcoran (wrist) and Paul Schutte (shoulder) who have both resumed training.