herald

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Ryan still 'mad as ever for road'

O'Dwyer's still going strong despite scale of upheaval and life-threatening brain injury

Dublin forward Ryan O’Dwyer, who will come up against his native Tipperary in Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC Qualifer in Thurles. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin forward Ryan O’Dwyer, who will come up against his native Tipperary in Saturday’s All-Ireland SHC Qualifer in Thurles. Pic: Sportsfile

Niall Corcoran reckons he has a milli on Ryan O'Dwyer stories. Few enough of them fit for print.

"I remember when he came on board first, being a fellow 'country man', I gave him a shout and introduced myself because he had joined Crokes too," recalls Galway native Corcoran.

"He said to me at one stage 'what you see with me is what you get'.

"Jesus, he wasn't wrong…"

That was 2011.

O'Dwyer had been discarded by Tipperary's management the previous year and watched their All-Ireland win that September from Hill 16, the same month he began teaching in Dublin.

"We knew he had been up and had been teaching up in Dublin and had been left off the Tipperary panel and that he wasn't happy about that," says Ciarán Hetherton, one of Anthony Daly's selectors for all six of his seasons in charge of Dublin.

"We thought he might bring a bit of steel to us. Especially in the forwards. That he could give us a different dimension."

He didn't so much take to the task of integrating like a fish to water as a bull to a china shop.

"Fellas took straight away to his personality," says Corcoran.

"He's a messer and all the rest but he's a really social character and gets on with everybody.

Majority

"We were heading off to a training camp not long after he joined the panel and yet there he was, down the back of the bus, leading the charge and losing his b*****s at cards! Guys love that. They just take to that," adds Corcoran.

Six years and a serious brain injury later and O'Dwyer is still about when the majority of those with whom he hurled early on have left.

"There's been a lot of stuff said about management, about players. . . if they feel aggrieved bite the bullet and get on with it," he said last year as more and more faces faded from view.

"Every player that wants to win for Dublin, wants to be there, with no personal agenda."

He is an extreme rarity in the current squad then, a Dublin hurler in his 30s.

And if he didn't look as mobile as he once was - nor did he score - in Parnell Park last Saturday night, he could hardly have made himself any more of a nuisance or scarcely generated much more space for those around him than he managed.

"He brings that physicality," Hetherton observes.

"He puts his head where other fellas wouldn't out their hurl.

"That's not taking away from his hurling ability either. It's testament to his commitment that after the brain injury and everything else, he's still putting it in."

There have been sendings off, the most costly being the disputed double-yellow he was issued during the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final, the closest Dublin came to ultimate glory in Daly's tenure.

There has been blood, too. Lots of it.

At one stage, it became customary for O'Dwyer to finish match either stitched, concussed or both, all of which made his incident outside a Birmingham nightclub in October 2015 all the scarier.

"Maybe for the first time in my life - I was 100 per cent innocent," he explained in an interview with The Herald almost a year later when, despite an initial predictions that he would never hurl again following a late night attack that knocked him unconscious, O'Dwyer had reached a stage where a more positive outcome was inevitable.

"I would say 'no problem' if I was involved. But I was totally innocent in this. And that's what kills me. This was literally, just having a chat and then - bang."

Initially, Corcoran recalls O'Dwyer being "very tentative in training in terms of the contact stuff. But he grew in confidence.

"He'd probably say himself that he didn't have his best year last year and how could he?

Leading

"But his form has completely changed and he's the one leading the charge now in a changed squad.

"It was a huge lift for the squad to see him there.

"I don't know if he realises the impact that that had on the rest of the squad when he walked onto the pitch."

On Saturday, he'll take on his native Tipp in the championship for the fourth time in his seven seasons as a Dublin hurler, still as mad for road as he was when he played for the Premier County, despite the drastic change all around him.

"It did cross my mind to pack it in, just to make sure I'm here for my son," he revealed in that interview last year.

"But I think my reason behind it all is, I only get to do this for so long. And I'm determined to do it for as long as I can."

Promoted articles

Entertainment News