Cashel’s Ryan O’Dwyer
bidding to put one over his native county on Sunday

Jackie Cahill

Jackie Cahill

HE could have a coveted Celtic Cross in his back pocket by now but Ryan O’Dwyer has no regrets.

Having spent the summer of 2009 in Boston, he had made a solemn promise that he’d return a year later.

And the Cashel man stayed true to his word, turning down an invitation from Liam Sheedy to rejoin Tipperary’s senior hurling panel for the concluding stages of last year’s championship.

O’Dwyer had returned to training for a couple of sessions but Boston called and he never looked back.

He was at Croke Park when Tipp won a classic All-Ireland final against Kilkenny last September but even then, the 25-year-old forward’s conscience was clear.

His last game for Tipp was in 2008, against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, on an afternoon when he freely admits that he was given the proverbial “roasting” by John Gardiner.

O’Dwyer’s race was run by half-time and while he remained on the panel for the remainder of the season, he wasn’t called upon again.

He didn’t feature under Liam Sheedy in 2009 and 2010 and when the call arrived from the Portroe man in June last year, it was too late as far as O’Dwyer was concerned.

“If I was good enough to be there in June, I was good enough to be there in January and February,” is O’Dwyer’s frank assessment now.

“I had promised the lads that I’d go back out there (Boston). I was out there in 2009.”

2010 did see O’Dwyer line out in a Tipperary jersey, however, as he lined out in the National Football League under John Evans before captaining the juniors in the Munster championship against Kerry.

After another enjoyable summer experience in the US, former University of Limerick student O’Dwyer took up employment as a schoolteacher at St MacDara’s community College in Templeogue.

It wasn’t long before the grapevine began to buzz with speculation of a club and intercounty switch to Dublin and last November, the news was finally confirmed.

Dublin, and Kilmacud Crokes, had a new recruit and he made his competitive debut early this year against Antrim in the Walsh Cup, going on to score 0-6 against Kilkenny as Anthony Daly’s team claimed some early season silverware in that competition.

Conal Keaney may have grabbed the headlines with his high-scoring exploits during the historic National Hurling League campaign but O’Dwyer was equally as effective at full-forward and centre-forward, his abrasive style causing problems for a succession of top-class opposition.

And he began to add a scoring touch too, chipping in with 2-13 during the Allianz League, including 0-4 from frees, with a 2-2 display against Offaly particularly noteworthy.

And a barnstorming performance against Kilkenny in the League final saw O’Dwyer earn the man of the match award.

He was quiet, yet effective, against Offaly in Dublin’s Leinster championship opener, scoring 0-2, before disaster struck in the provincial semi-final when he was sent off for tapping Galway’s Shane Kavanagh on the head with his hurl.

A suspended O’Dwyer was forced to look on helplessly as Dublin collapsed against Kilkenny in the Leinster final but he had learned a valuable lesson and vowed that such petty indiscipline would never happen again.

“If it’s a red card and a lesson learned, then it’s a valuable red card,” O’Dwyer would later reflect.

Consequently, O’Dwyer felt the need to redeem himself in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick and he did so in style, notching 3-1 before half-time before popping over a crucial late point under extreme pressure.

Having required 35 stitches in an horrific ear wound sustained during the Galway game, O’Dwyer left the field of play again with blood seeping from a head wound following a late clash with a Limerick player.

But once again, he had secured the man-of-the-match award and helped to ensure Dublin’s passage to a first All-Ireland SHC semi-final since 1948.

Now, familiar folk like in wait in the form of his native Tipperary next Sunday, when the roles will be reversed following his appearance against Dublin for Tipp during the 2007 championship.

After his Limerick heroics, O’Dwyer was quick to mention his grandfather Paddy Ryan, who won Olympic gold and silver medals representing the USA in the hammer throw event at the 1920 Antwerp games.

A statue of Ryan stands proudly in the village of Pallasgreen in county Limerick as a testament to his superb achievements but now another member of the family is busy making waves in the world of sport.

O’Dwyer says proudly: “As regards sporting influence, my grandfather is the biggest. But when I was young, I learned more from hurling on the road with my brother (Thomas) than anywhere else. I would have looked up to Conal Bonnar playing for Tipp, another Cashel man, and Declan Ryan as well.”

O’Dwyer’s family provide constant support with his parents John and Bernie, brothers John, Thomas and Alan and sisters Julieanne and Siobhan now proud adopted Dublin fans when Ryan represents the capital.

But O’Dwyer will never forget his Cashel King Cormacs roots and he says proudly: “Everything goes back to the club, from U12, U14, U16.

“Forget about the people you have at intercounty – they’re (club) the people that get you to intercounty. Without them, you’d be nobody.

“Timmy Moloney puts his heart and soul into it with Cashel, I had Michael Butler at underage and Roger Ryan. Every one of them instilled a love of hurling in me. Without them I could have gone another way.

“At various stages, soccer and rugby were my number one sport.

“The first actual training session I can remember with Cashel was with Roger Ryan. He was the very first hurling trainer I had. I was about eight, I went up training with Thomas. There was an U11 blitz, myself and (childhood friend) David Slattery went up.

“I’d have to give a mention to Tommy Grogan in Cashel too, and Fr. Tom Fogarty, who was over the Tipp U21s. He instilled a lot of belief in me, a great man, along with the other U21 selectors – Tommy Grogan, Huge Browne, Len Gaynor and Bertie Sherlock.

“During my first year with the seniors, John Leahy developed me a lot, pointing out things that I’d have glanced over in previous years. He focused me a lot, made me believe and to play every game as if it’s your last. But as regards belief in myself and my own ability, who’s done the most for me are Anthony Daly and Richie Stakelum. But I’d like to think I’ve taken a bit from every single one of the people I’ve mentioned.”

On and off the field of play, Ryan’s brother Thomas is never far away.

Also Dublin-based, Thomas plays for Thomas Davis in the capital and the siblings live together in Springfield, Tallaght.