independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Farewell to Dubs' Resurrection Man and deep thinker

KEVIN Heffernan was a thinker. He was the Marino boy who led the waltz to victory in 1974 when Dublin were written off by everyone bar their manager.

Heffernan revolutionised the game of Gaelic football, and with his friend, Mickey Whelan, he brought amateur sportsmen to professional levels. Tactics were thought out back then that are still the template for the way we play the game today. Heffernan knew the mind was the final frontier. There was a belief in Gaelic football circles that Dublin were soft. No match for the big, strong country boys fed on bacon and cabbage and floury spuds.

Kevin Heffernan was a proud man. He loved his native city and her people. It was this loyalty that underpinned his belief Dublin would come good.

He manufactured a team. They were tough. Big, strong lads. Some of his choices were inspired. His men would not stand back, and so a legend was born.

Heffernan was one of the finest players of his or any generation. He won 21 county championships with his beloved St Vincent's, and in 1958 Heffernan captained Dublin to a league and championship double.

But it was a defeat that formed him and led him on a mission of revenge that would take 21 years to complete. It was 1955 and Heffernan's Dublin machine was dismantled by Kerry. Heffernan was injured in what was a game for men of steel.

In 1976, Dublin beat Kerry in the final. Heffernan, their manager, stood in the middle of the Kerry dressing room after the game.

"I've been dreaming of this moment since 1955," he said.

In a way, Kerry defined him. His arch rival Mick O Dwyer took him on. Possibly the two most brilliant GAA men of their time fought out many a duel in the 1970s and 1980s. Such was the intensity of their rivalry and the beauty of the football played, their era will be forever known as The Golden Years.

Kevin's captain and friend Tony Hanahoe described him as "a Renaissance man who lifted the city in bad times". Kevin was very methodical. He put across his point forcefully if he had to. He did so much for the GAA nationally and maybe Kevin never got the recognition he deserved. Then he went to Australia and managed the Irish team to win the series.

Kevin was successful in his job too, and was very much committed to public service. He was a patriot in his own quiet way.

But his revolution wasn't quiet. The Dublin fans were dressed in blue to the last man. There was singing for the first time ever at GAA games. And the wearing of team jerseys and the painting of faces.

'Molly Malone', 'We're All Part of Heffo's Army' and 'Come On You Boys in Blue' swept down from the new Dub enclave of Hill 16. The Dubs partied as if Judgment Day was the Monday after the All-Ireland. The days of bowing down and feeling undervalued were over. It was the unification of a city under the blue jersey.

And all the while the main man in his new V-neck jumper watched the fray from the sidelines with the unerring eye of a genius. His friend Hanahoe said he was a Renaissance man, and so he was. For Dublin, he was the Resurrection Man.

For Kevin Heffernan was one of those very rare beings who changed Dublin – and Ireland – forever, and for the better.

Irish Independent

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