"Even the lads I did like - for 70 or 75 minutes, I had to hate them" - Ryan O'Dwyer and a tale of two jerseys
In terms of motivational tools, the good old fashioned chip on the shoulder gets more credit than most.
There's nothing quite like a simple grudge to rile a person up and if you've ever seen Ryan O'Dwyer hurl, you've witnessed a man who played the game like he had a floury spud weighing him down. Confrontational and aggressive. Insatiable and combative. This goes for when he wore the sky blue of Dublin - the part of his career for which he'll be best remembered - and it goes for when he wore the blue and gold of Tipperary too.
In Tipperary, he felt an outcast, in Dublin he shook them all, including his native county, up. O'Dwyer, who's career will be documented in an enthralling Laochra Gael Show this Thursday night, certainly took the road less travelled, on more than one occasion in his hurling career.
Not making Tipperary u14, 16 or minor teams dented the Cashel King Cormacs club man's confidence at an early age and so even when he was called into the 21s and latterly made the senior team, there was a complex there from which he never fully recovered.
"We (Cashel) would have had no success underage, I wouldn’t be the most skilful hurler there is. When you’re coming through the underage in Tipp it’s the most skilful hurlers who get there," the affable 34-year-old says over a Zoom call on Sunday night.
"I never played minor and it was probably an issue in my head rather than the other lads not making me feel wanted - me thinking I shouldn't have been there because I didn’t play U14, U16 or minor.
"That was more a personal thing. I didn’t have the self-belief in one way - as an 18, 19, 20 year old coming onto the Tipp senior panel I was probably being paranoid - ‘they don’t think I should be here’, which probably wasn’t the case, but it’s hard not to think that way," he recalls.
And so during a stop-start Tipperary career that saw him win a League and a Munster title before getting dropped and called back in again, O'Dwyer was a bit all over the shop. The fact that he went to Boston instead of committing to Tipperary's All-Ireland winning team in 2010 couldn't have helped either.
But then came the lifeboat. One Saturday morning when he was out coaching the kids at his club, the phone rings and it's Richie Stakelum. He's a fellow Tipp man and he's Anthony Daly's right hand man up in Dublin and he was talking transfers. With O'Dwyer teaching in Dublin by this stage, his ears pricked. It was tough to leave his club but leaving Tipperary wasn't as difficult.
"I didn't feel as much a part of it in Tipp," he says on Thursday night's Show.
“When I came to Dublin first, I was coming with an open mind, and I came with nearly the attitude that I was going to reinvent myself..."
“It’s kind of a clean slate. Here’s my opportunity to show everyone what I am capable of without having any baggage there with me,
"The lads made me feel so welcome. There was not one person there that I could say, ‘Ah Jesus, he wasn’t sound,’ or, ‘It took a while to break him down before I was friends with him.’"
Dublin were onto something good and O'Dwyer's arrival proved a catalyst. He was hell-bent, he was liberated and soon Daly's men were taking scalps. A Leinster championship triumph in 2013 was the peak but beating Kilkenny in a 2012 replay was just as exhilarating. Regrettably, All-Ireland semi-final day was as far as they got and their best chance (2013) ended with O'Dwyer receiving a harsh red card against Cork. The charismatic centre forward admits he's found it hard to get over James Owens' call "to this day."
In a colourful career, facing Tipperary in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final offered a stunning glimpse into the mindset of a uniquely charged hurler.
"There were a lot of lads there I had a good relationship with (from Tipp), and I hate playing against lads I like, because I don’t want to hurt them, and generally when I play I hurt people because I’m so awkward.
"Now on the other side there were a few that I didn’t like, but that wasn't the issue. Overall I tried to treat it as another game.
"There were people on the outside trying to make it a bigger deal than it was, but I used it as motivation. I didn’t want them to get one up on me, even the lads I did like - for that 70 or 75 minutes I had to hate them..."
Honest as the day is long, O'Dwyer wonders what the Laochra Gael directors saw in him, but it's as clear as day now. "I thought they were taking the p*ss first!"
As well as the distinctive style and attitude, O'Dwyer is one of the few inter-county hurlers who used a Cúltec plastic 'hurley' throughout his career. He explains why he left the timber for the carbon fibre with that bit of Tipperary breeding shining through - he insists it's a hurley and not a hurl.
"It’s a psychological thing. Anyone that plays hurling will say…Nicky English talked about it in his book with Vincent Hogan…he got this hurley and it was the most amazing hurley ever. It was an extension of his arm.
“Sometimes you get a hurley and it’s like a wand in your hand. You feel like Harry Potter. But then you break it and you’re confidence is ruined. You have to get used to a new hurley. It’s a different weight. It’s a different feel – even though it’s the same shape, in your hand.
“The thing about Cúltec is, it’s the same weight the whole time. I could go out and hurl away and have it for three or four weeks and break it. But I could pick up a new one and it feels the exact same.
“I’d have never pucked a ball with it, but it doesn’t feel any different.
“It might take a little while to get used to the first one, the first Cúltec hurley – and it’s always a hurley, not a hurl – but when you get used to it, it’s the same the whole time.”
He goes onto talk regrets from his time with Dublin.
"During my time with Dublin, there were times when I wasn’t humble."
I was lapping up the attention. Looking back on it now, I was young and immature. I think it took me a while to mature, it took me a while to say ‘look it’s not worth a f*ck if you can’t do it on the pitch. People soon forget about you. I suppose around that time, there was a lot of noise and I listened to the noise rather than blocking it out."
'Not a week goes by where I don't think of that'
Cuireadh Ryan O'Dwyer den pháirc go conspóideach i gcluiche Leath Cheannais na hÉireann in 2013.@DubGAAOfficial were one point ahead before O'Dwyer's second yellow hugely impacted the outcome of the game.
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) January 11, 2021
Not many would admit to it, but O'Dwyer has blazed his own path.