Former Tipp and Dub star Ryan O'Dwyer revelling in Down journey
He hasn't hung up his hurl yet, but Ryan O'Dwyer is already making a mark in the coaching world. Neil Loughran talks to the former Tipperary and Dublin star about his involvement with ambitious Down…
RECOVERY from a serious hand injury permitting, Ryan O’Dwyer will still be turning out for home club Cashel this year. At 35, and with a move out west waiting down the line, the former Tipperary and Dublin star is determined to make the most of every moment left - but the transition into the next stage of a stellar career is already well under way.
Last year, having suffered disappointment in the 2020 decider, O’Dwyer led Fingallions to the Dublin intermediate crown, and he will be there when the Swords club dip their toes into senior championship action come late summer.
For now, though, the only thing that matters is Down.
On Tuesday and Thursdays, straight after the teaching day ends at St MacDara’s Community School, he leaves Templeogue and heads straight for training at the Dub in south Belfast.
The miles, the hours away from his young family, the soaring price of diesel, all are put on the backburner once he steps out of the car and onto the field. Having only been a bit part after being initially brought on board by Ronan Sheehan last year, there have been no such half measures in 2022.
Familiarising himself with the geography of the county has been one part of the journey.
“Going to Ballycran on match days feels like you’re lost somewhere in Game of Thrones,” he laughs.
But, O’Dwyer hopes, the fruits of his labour are beginning to work their way into Down’s performances – last weekend’s narrow defeat to Kildare coming after impressive victories over Carlow and Meath looked to have secured their Division 2A survival.
“I only did probably four or five sessions last year, and in fairness Ronan was very understanding.
“There’s a big commitment with an inter-county team. It’s easier when you’re a player, you train and you head home, but when you’re on a management team you’re there before the lads arrive, you’re there after they go, you’re always on the phone to the rest of the management team, talking to players, then there’s the research on the opposition… there’s a massive commitment involved but I’m the kind of person who either does it 100 per cent, or I don’t do it at all.
“Honestly, the journey flies, and the reason it flies is because of the players. I’m getting a buzz off them. Coming back down the road I’m home before I know it because I’m thinking of the training we just did, how we can improve on it… I’ve done sessions before with other teams and it might have been five minutes up the road, but it was a struggle. It takes it out of you.
“With these boys, it definitely doesn’t. I see the reaction I’m getting, I’ve a lot of lads coming to me after games asking ‘how will I improve this, how will improve that’… I think I’m bonding well with them.
“But then I can have a different relationship with them than, say, Ronan can have because he’s the manager, he has to deliver bad news when it needs delivered, but I’m getting to know them on a different level, have a bit of craic with them.
“Now and again there might have to do punishments… there’s one lad who had a free overturned there at the weekend, so he’s getting punished tonight!
“But that’s only about trying to get them together, get a bit of comradery going. They’re a great bunch. I feel really lucky to be part of it.”
Having played under the likes of Liam Sheedy and Anthony Daly at inter-county level, O’Dwyer hopes to put into practice tricks of the trade picked up as he goes along.
One day he wants to be like those men, leading a Liam MacCarthy side out on the biggest days, and working with Down offers a window into that world at the level just below.
Rather than focusing on “rigid” game-plans, his aim is to equip players for whatever comes their way in the remainder of a Division 2A campaign they hope to get back on course in Westmeath on Sunday, and then in the Joe McDonagh Cup.
“You look at Wexford under Davy Fitz, it was all pass, pass, pass – it was over-passing. Players were too rigid because, too much by the book. You can have all the structures you want, but so much of hurling is played on instinct because the game is so fast.
“What you’re doing is trying to prepare them for what is coming up, so at training you take them out of their comfort zone… like, I’ve absolutely dogged them. I’ve been a horrible boll**ks to them.
“But I’m taking them out of their comfort zone so that, no matter what’s in front of them on the day of a game, they’re able to react, rather than looking at the sideline like ‘what do we do here?’”
The doggedness to get over the line in those first two League outings suggests the work is paying off. Forward Daithi Sands was quick to sing the praises of O’Dwyer recently, and the work done to alter mindsets.
That is why, rather than being content with consolidation in 2A, he wants the Down players to push themselves to the limit – because he believes the ability and potential is there to not only push for promotion, but to mount a challenge for the McDonagh Cup.
“Maybe my view is different to the lads, but I’m making this journey from Dublin up to Belfast three times a week - I’m not coming up here to get experience. Of course I’ll take the experience, it’s great to get that. But I’m coming up here to leave them in a better place than they were at the start.
“For the majority of time I’ve played hurling, I’ve fit my life around it. It wasn’t a pastime, it became my life and everything fitted to suit my hurling. So I suppose that’s where I’m coming from, and it’s the same with this.
“I want the lads to want to achieve the best and to believe they can achieve the best. They’re not here to take part, win a couple of League games and stay up, or stay in the Joe McDonagh – I’m not here for that.
“If anyone mentions that, and it has been mentioned, I cut that off straight away and said ‘lads, if that’s the case I don’t need to be here’. I’m not saying they will win it, but the players I see, I do think there is a golden opportunity to progress and not just take part in the Joe McDonagh, or possibly win a game against a bigger team.
“The lads need to believe that they’re good enough to win 2A, that they’re good enough to win the Joe McDonagh, and I think that’s coming in, slowly but surely.”