Friday 21 September 2018

Karl O'Dwyer: Why I'm still torn over memories of Kildare v Kerry in 1998

Micko's son Karl fulfilled a dream but not with his native Kerry

15 September 1998; Kildare manager Mick O'Dwyer with his son and Kildare footballer Karl at the Kildare Press Night, Newbridge, Co.Kildare. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
15 September 1998; Kildare manager Mick O'Dwyer with his son and Kildare footballer Karl at the Kildare Press Night, Newbridge, Co.Kildare. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
30 August 1998. Kerry's Eamonn Fitzmaurice dispossesses Kildare's Karl O'Dwyer. All-Ireland Football semi-final, Kildare v Kerry, Croke Park. Picture credit: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE.

If Páidí v Micko was the all-engrossing narrative in the prelude to the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Kildare, Karl O'Dwyer was easily the most compelling sub-plot.

"Some people say to me 'was it the best moment of your career?' he recalled this week in conversation with The Herald ahead of the meeting again of his county of birth and his place of residence in Sunday's quarter-final.

"It was and it wasn't. It wasn't because I knew all the Kerry lads and I was good friends with a lot of them.

"But it was a means to an end really for me. Growing up in Kerry, all I wanted to do was play in an All-Ireland final for Kerry. That didn't happen.

"So now I got my chance with Kildare. So that was the real good thing about it, that I got to play in an All-Ireland final. Which was my ambition when I was growing up down in Kerry."

Such was the intense and famous bond between the managers in the opposing dugouts - and so unique and encapsulating were the characters - nobody talked of much else only Páidí v Micko in the run-in.


It couldn't be any other way. But in Karl O'Dwyer's view, that jilted focus "probably helped Kildare in some ways in that there was a lot of talk about that and it probably took a bit of the pressure off the Kildare players.

"At the time, we had nothing to lose either," he points out.

"Kerry were All-Ireland champions. They were expected to win it. Whereas in the final, there was so much hype after beating Kerry that there was a bit of extra pressure and we just didn't perform in the second half. But that's another story…

"But there's no doubt about it. It was a great time."

Having moved up earlier in 1998, O'Dwyer still resides in Kildare.

He teaches in Leixlip and his two sons are playing on the under-8s and under-9s teams in St Laurence's.

His wife, Sandra, is the senior club secretary.

"There's no going back now at this stage," he chuckles.

Yet it says something of the shock that greeted Kildare's big win in Thurles that O'Dwyer, entrenched though he now is in Kildare football, hadn't come across a single person who saw it coming.

"I'm not surprised that Kildare performed but I am surprised that they won the game and number two, the score they got," he admits.

"But it was a welcome surprise."

"The six-day turnaround for Cork … we were there in 2002 actually against Kerry," he recalls of the last championship meeting of the teams.

"We had only a six-day turnaround after being beaten in the Leinster final by Dublin.

"And it is very hard mentally. Training is very hard mentally. Psychologically, it's very hard to get up for the game."

Quite how high Kerry need to get up for Sunday is open to prediction but as O'Dwyer points out: "There are a lot of lads in the Kerry panel, the likes of Tommy Walsh and Darran O'Sullivan, who are very disappointed that they're not getting much game time.

"I don't think Éamonn, even if he wanted to, could pull things back a bit.

"Because there are lads there in the team that are pushing hard to get in," added O'Dwyer.

"If I was a Kerry player, I wouldn't be holding back."

And what of the notoriously boom-or-bust Kildare support?

Frenzied or despressed, there's rarely any middle ground.

"Oh, they're boom-or-bust all right! Jesus …. no doubt about that," he laughs.

"Ah they are, yeah. But it if it was anyone other than Kerry or Dublin, they'd be (expectant).

"But when you're playing the All-Ireland champions in an All-Ireland quarter-final, the boom part of it has to be brought down a little bit.

"Kerry, at the end of the day, have the best forwards in the country.

"Like, all Kildare people are hoping for at the moment is that they'll put in the same level of performance this weekend as last weekend.

"If that means they can win the game, great.

"But if they can bring that level of intensity, they won't be too far away," he concluded.

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