The highs and lows of Ryan O’Dwyer’s inter-county career
The Tipperary man retires a Dublin legend, writes Evan Coughlan.
Ryan O’Dwyer has had an inter-county career that he hardly could’ve imagined when he was growing up a hurling obsessed child in Cashel in the nineties.
While O’Dwyer got the chance to line out for his native county at senior level, it was in a different shade of blue that the former Cashel King Cormac’s man would make a greater impact.
With his distinctive red helmet, O’Dwyer had many highs and lows during his time on the inter-county scene.
Ryan O’Dwyer’s breakthrough on the inter-county scene came as a member of the Tipperary minor football team in 2004.
A year later he was a member of the county under-21 hurling team and would capture a Munster title at that grade in 2006.
O’Dwyer’s progression continued and he made his debut for the Tipp senior team the following year against Kilkenny in a National League match and would make his championship debut against Limerick that summer.
The following year, O’Dwyer was an integral part of the Tipperary team that won the National League title, however he lost his place in the starting fifteen for the Munster championship as Tipperary captured their 37th Munster title.
After losing his place in the starting fifteen for the Munster championship in 2008, O’Dwyer began to find opportunities harder to come by as the likes of Seamus Callanan and Noel McGrath were beginning to break through.
Tipperary reached the All-Ireland final in 2009, but O’Dwyer had been dropped from the panel earlier that year.
After the disappointment of losing his place on the Tipperary hurling panel, O’Dwyer went back to playing football and was part of the Tipperary panel for the 2010 season.
Move to the Capital
O’Dwyer’s career as a primary school teacher allowed him to make the move to Dublin in 2010 and by the end of the year he was playing with Kilmacud Crokes.
In late 2010, O’Dwyer was asked by ex-Tipperary hurler and Dublin selector Richie Stakelum to meet with Dublin manager Anthony Daly. O’Dwyer and Daly immediately got on and O’Dwyer was now part of the Dublin hurling panel going into 2011.
In interviews years later, O’Dwyer has admitted to being in awe of Daly as he was a hero of his growing up in the nineties.
Dubs on the rise
Under Daly, Dublin hurling was completely reinvigorated and they would go on to win their first National League title since 1939, beating Kilkenny in the final, with Ryan O’Dwyer winning the man of the match award for his display in a historic day for Dublin hurling.
In the 2011 Leinster Championship semi-final, O’Dwyer was sent off for striking Galway’s Shane Kavanagh with his hurley. This earned O’Dwyer a four week suspension and he missed his first Leinster final a few weeks later.
Dublin would lose to Kilkenny in the Leinster final and O’Dwyer would return for the All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick. O’Dwyer would deliver a master class that day scoring 3-02 as Dublin reached their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1948.
O’Dwyer and Dublin would face off against O’Dwyer’s native Tipperary in the semi-final. While Dublin lead for most of the match, the All-Ireland champions were able to grind out a four point win and Dublin’s most successful championship in over 60 years was over.
Dublin hurling stalled in 2012 with relegation from Division 1A of the National League and a qualifier defeat to Clare in the championship ended Dublin’s year before it ever got going.
O’Dwyer and Dublin started off 2013 on the right foot with promotion back to Division 1A in the National League.
Dublin began the Leinster Championship with two hard fought games over Wexford in the quarter-final, followed by two games against Kilkenny in the semi-finals, with O’Dwyer using his physicality to help Dublin finally vanquish Kilkenny in the championship.
Galway would be Dublin’s opponents in the Leinster final and O’Dwyer helped himself to three points as Dublin won their first Leinster title since 1961.
A day to forget
Dublin hurling had never been in a better place as they faced off against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-finals in August 2013.
O’Dwyer was playing great on that summer afternoon and wasn’t letting the yellow card he was given in the 2nd minute tamper his game.
Dublin were leading as the match ticked into the 50th minute. O’Dwyer caught Cork’s Lorcan McLoughlin with a late block and O’Dwyer picked up his second yellow of the match and was sent-off.
After his sending off, the tide of the game turned in Cork’s direction and they ended up the victors by five points, as Dublin yet again faltered at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.
Ryan himself has since admitted that not a week goes by that he doesn’t think of the sending off against Cork and what could’ve been that year for Dublin.
After speculation about his future, Anthony Daly decided to soldier on with Dublin for another year, but the 2014 championship was to be one to forget for the Clarecastle man.
Dublin made it to another Leinster final, but were well beaten by Kilkenny and then by Tipperary in the quarter-finals and Daly called time on his reign with Dublin.
Ger Cunningham was appointed to replace Daly and he went about ruffling some feathers and was not well liked by many of the players, a lot of whom ultimately left the Dublin panel.
One that remained was Ryan O’Dwyer who got along with Cunningham and would go on to become one of the senior men on the panel.
Dublin would lose a number of matches by double scores during Cunningham’s tenure in charge and the loss of a number of senior players made Dublin a team who many no longer feared.
After three years in charge Ger Cunningham left his position with the Dublin team after an embarrassing 22 points defeat to O’Dwyer’s native Tipperary.
Leave it better than you found it
During Ger Cunningham’s time in charge, Ryan O’Dwyer would go through one of the toughest times in his life when he was attacked outside a nightclub in Birmingham in October 2015.
O’Dwyer was left with a fractured skull, a broken jaw and most serious of all bleeding in the brain from the one punch attack.
After the attack, O’Dwyer was brought to West Bromwich hospital, where he would remain for a week, before coming back to Ireland. O’Dwyer credits the Dublin management team, along with his family with helping him recover from the attack quickly.
After recovering from the incident in Birmingham O’Dwyer would return for Dublin’s 2016 championship campaign.
When Pat Gilroy was announced as Dublin’s new manager for the 2018 season, he went to O’Dwyer and asked him to remain on the panel for one more year.
Although O’Dwyer’s starting place on the team was no longer secured, the Kilmacud Crokes man’s experience was invaluable to Gilroy and the younger generation of Dublin hurlers.
O’Dwyer told his teammates that he would be retiring after their championship defeat to Galway in June.
While O’Dwyer was unable to lift Liam McCarthy during his time as an inter-county hurler, he has left Dublin hurling in a much better place after making the switch at the beginning of the decade and the Cashel man will be fondly remembered as a pivotal member of Dublin hurling’s regeneration for years to come.
GAA columnist with the GAA Wrap.