O'Dwyer waxes lyrical over the greatness of looming opponent Walsh
WHEN they're gone, learned hurling men will debate long into the night about what made Brian Cody's Kilkenny great but every cat in the Marble County has his own theory.
"What makes Kilkenny great," says Ryan O'Dwyer, currently gearing himself up for a trip to the Nowlan Park colosseum on Sunday, "is their attitude, and the fella who epitomises that best is Tommy Walsh."
O'Dwyer has witnessed the great Tullaroan man in close quarters -- generally as an opponent -- but got the chance to hurl on the same side as Walsh and the majority of his medal-speckled Kilkenny team-mates when lining out for his adopted province, Leinster, in the recent M Donnelly Interprovincial Series.
The experience, he reckons, helped him gain "a little insight into their mindframe, how they work and what they're thinking" but he was dumbstruck by the total commitment of one of their most distinguished ever players.
"I know the match wasn't top class," he explains, "but there were balls there that he only had a 20 per cent chance of winning, but he went full-throttle after them and he won some of them.
"This is a man who's after winning six All-Irelands and numerous (nine) All Stars. You wonder how is that hunger still going but it is and fair play to him for that."
There are few, if any, passages of play in hurling which draw the sort of throaty reaction from a crowd as a half-back plucking a high ball and sending it straight back from whence it came and Walsh, despite his relatively diminutive height, is as brilliant a proponent of the art as ever played the game.
"I think it's his reading of the game and his anticipation," agrees O'Dwyer. "He's at such a level now and he has played so many big games that he knows where the ball is going to be rather than following it where it is.
"A lot of lads are chasing it but he goes where the ball is going.
It's instinct. But that didn't happen overnight.
"He's a craftsman of the game and if you want to learn how to play half-back from anyone, it would be him." Naturally, the odds don't favour a Dublin win in Nowlan Park on Sunday but O'Dwyer is unconcerned about such things at this relatively early part of the season.
"We have a saying in the team that we detach ourselves from the result," he explains. "Ultimately, we have no control on the outcome. All we can do is contribute to it.
"That's been the focus for the last two years. If everyone plays their part, the outcome will look after itself.
"But Dublin don't have any fear of Kilkenny, that's a fact," he adds, "Tipp have more of a fear of Kilkenny than Dublin do. It's a historical thing."
The Galway and Cork defeats were, according to O'Dwyer "two ends of the spectrum" and he admits that attitude was a factor in their Salthill malaise.
"There was that element there that 'it happened for us last year so it should happen for us this year'," he notes.
"We have to make it happen because it won't happen by itself."
And despite the two losses and the looming visit to Kilkenny, O'Dwyer is suitably ambitious about the season, particularly when he factors in those who are on the brink of a return to Dublin's ranks.
"We believe we can win an All-Ireland," he states, bluntly. "If we didn't we wouldn't be doing what we're doing. Ultimately, that's what we want to do.
"And when you start to piece together the team and who could be in it, it gives you goosebumps and you start to think 'the first Sunday in September, where are we going to be?'"