Dubs' spiritual director 'Humble Heffo' gets final round of applause
The damp Dublin air glistened with memories and stories and hazy runs down memory lane as a true giant of GAA, the mighty mobiliser of a great army – Kevin Heffernan – left his beloved Marino for the final time.
Before the funeral Mass for the legendary man known simply as 'Heffo', who died on Friday at the age of 83 after a lengthy illness, old friends, and also a few old foes, streamed into the Church of St Vincent de Paul to say a final farewell.
Broadcaster Micheal O Muircheartaigh said that Kevin had been special from the start. "Even in primary school, word went around to all the other schools, if you're playing Marino, watch Heffo," he said.
"He held that magic all through his career. I always think he was the spiritual director of football in Dublin."
Kerry's Eoin 'Bomber' Liston – a key player in the titanic sporting battles between Dublin and the Kingdom – acknowledged the 'Heffo effect' on his countymen. "There were great battles, but there were great friendships. We'd often stay awake at night, wondering did he have our measure," he said.
About 800 people from the worlds of sport and politics crowded into the church. Chief mourners were his wife Mary, his daughter Orla, sisters Pauline and Claire, son-in-law Paul O'Connor and grandchildren Ashling and Kevin.
Many names from the world of GAA turned up to say farewell to the towering figure in Dublin GAA, who captained the county footballers to All-Ireland victory in 1958; he also won 21 county titles with St Vincent's, and transformed the fortunes of the Dubs in the 1970s, guiding them to three All-Ireland titles between 1974 and 1983.
Among the crowd was GAA president Liam O'Neill, Dublin manager Jim Gavin, former bosses Pat Gilroy, Paul Caffrey and Tony Hanahoe.
Bernard Brogan and Bryan Cullen were there, as were familiar faces from past teams such as Jimmy Keaveney, Kevin Moran, and ex-Kerry footballers Eoin Liston and Mikey Sheehy.
Also in attendance were ministers Richard Bruton, Jimmy Deenihan and Leo Varadkar; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin; former Taoiseach Brian Cowen; local TDs Aodhan O Riordain and Finian McGrath; former TD Sean Haughey; and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
Mass was celebrated by Monsignor John Fitzpatrick and Fr Eoghan Haughey, brother of the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey, was a concelebrant.
Lined up alongside the coffin were a trio of symbols much loved by the true-blue Dub. Three flags were erected beside the altar: the Dublin flag, St Vincent's flag and one given to Heffo when he was awarded the Freedom of Dublin in 2005.
There were two eulogies at the end of the Mass. Former manager Tony Hanahoe explained the Dublin team's legendary hardiness, word of which began to spread after their unexpected All-Ireland triumph in 1974.
"For the next six years, apart from the fame and glory, we were to spend our time in a draughty little galvanised hut, sustained by nothing but tea, Marietta biscuits and sheer determination.
"I'm sure the late Tom Crean on his Arctic expeditions with his huskies would've felt little out of place in that hut in Parnell Park," said Hanahoe to widespread laughter.
There was also more chuckling when he sketched vividly just how bad the demoralised Dublin team were when Heffo took over in 1973, and then began to weave his magic which would finally bewitch the Dubs.
At half-time during an abject performance against Wexford, Kevin, the manager, tore into the team. "Kevin was absolutely livid," Hanahoe recalled.
"He tore strips off everybody. He said that the full-back from Wexford was so slow 'he must've come straight from the Ploughing Championships'. So Kevin had some advice for his lads – 'give him a few easy balls in case they take him off'."
However, Hanahoe also spoke of Heffo's "huge determination and commitment, great attention to detail".
"In Croke Park, in front of 83,000 people, when things were going wrong in every sector of the field, there was nothing in the manual to tell you what to do next – if you don't have the instinct, you're doomed. Kevin did have the instinct," he said.
Pat Gilroy also paid warm tribute. "He created a very healthy legacy, such as how to carry success, he was very humble – he never sought the limelight or accolades. For him, it was all about the team," he said.
After the Mass, Kevin was carried from the church to a round of applause, and the hearse departed slowly for St Fintan's cemetery, Sutton, past a guard-of-honour formed by pupils of the nearby Scoil Mhuire CBS, which Kevin had attended as a boy.
Brian Cowen told of his first meetings with Heffo, when he was Minister for Finance, and the sportsman was chairman of the Labour Court: "He'd come in to discuss industrial relations matters, but those talks would never last as long as the chat about sport."
But there were ordinary Dubs there too to say goodbye, including diehard denizen of Hill 16, Jerry Francis Martin Gowran, who has attended every Dubs game since 1958.
"He'll be a great loss," Jerry said. "I started off watching the Dubs as a kid standing on an orange box. And now there are corporate boxes in Croker."
It's been a wonderful march by Heffo's Barmy Army.