THE long march to the All-Ireland victory of 1983 began in unlikely and traumatic circumstances on Friday June 27, 1980 on the Clontarf Road in Dublin
Brian Mullins, aged 25 and already a legend of Dublin football was driving home to Portmarnock when he lost control of the car he was driving and it skidded towards a lampost.
As the Fiat 127 hurtled towards the inevitable collision, Mullins had a surreal moment of clarity and indeed, almost out of body calmness.
The car would crash. He was going to die. “Bye, bye Helen and the kids,” was the thought that flashed across his mind. Mullins has no memory of the actual impact but in hindsight, he reckoned that his dislike of wearing a seatbelt – they were not mandatory in those days – saved his life. He recovered consciousness and was lying in the back seat of what had been a motor car. The vehicle was wrecked. The lampost occupied the place where he had been sitting in the driver's seat moments beforehand.
“I have no recollection of throwing myself sideways out of the driver's seat but that is what I must have done,” he told me in late 1982.
“A seat belt would have held me in position exactly at the point of impact.”
Mullins drifted in and out of consciousness as the emergency services arrived and pulled apart some of the mangled metal to lift him out into the ambulance. It was only then he felt pain, but he was quickly brought to the Mater Hospital for a damage assessment.
A clean break of the femur mid shaft. Facial injuries including broken cheekbones. The roof of his mouth was cracked. Teeth were lost. Staff in Accident and Emergency had just lost a battle to save two young guys who stole a car and collided with a bus. “Brian, don't be worrying, at least you're alive,” he was told by the doctor on duty.
Mullins was ushered up to an operating theatre for work on the broken leg. That was the start of three months in hospital, and the first of five bouts of surgery.
Healing was slow, painfully slow. The Dubliner was in traction first, and then a spike plaster, which kept him virtually mummified from the chest down. He graduated from there to a full leg plaster, and eventually, nearly six months later, to calipers as the healing continued.
Friends and Dublin team comrades rallied round, and among the visitors was Brian Talty, the Galway midfielder. Shortly before the accident, Mullins had attended Talty's wedding, and the Galwayman was on honeymoon when the crash took place.
The links between them went back to a time when they were students and team mates at Thomond College in Limerick. They had graduated and become PE teachers and since 1979, Talty had been working on Dublin's Northside at St David's Artane, while Mullins was in nearby Greendale Community School in Kilbarrack.
As the first shock of the early days and weeks wore off, Mullins the athlete, the talisman of the new Dubs team that Kevin Heffernan was trying to build in the wake of the ‘74-’79 side, began to wonder about his chances of playing football again.
Play football? He could hardly walk without any calipers or crutches for a year and was left with a noticeable limp.
“I know it's pointless having regrets, especially having survived, but some times I feel that the accident robbed me of what I felt could have been two or three great years in my football career, “I was 25 then, approaching the stage when a sportsman is reckoned to be at his peak. Whatever about the theory, I really felt myself reaching a peak at that time.
“Dublin were in a process of change, but I thought the team had a good chance of at least going beyond the Leinster final stage. “We had just beaten Laois in the quarter-final after a hard battle and I was looking forward to facing Meath in the semifinal,” he said. No semi-final for Brian. No Mullins for the Dubs as the Boys in Blue went on to reach the Leinster final of 1980 but lost to Offaly – their first Leinster defeat since Louth beat them in 1973.
The following year they fell in the provincial semi-final to Laois, but by the time the 1982 Leinster semi-final came round, amazingly the man mountain was back on a football pitch in the Dublin colours. Only Mullins and his family know the full extent of the effort he made to get back to football.
His recovery amazed and delighted team mates and impressed opponents but it was a long, lonely hard road. He was still struggling with the leg when he went to America to study for an MA in Athletics Administration in New York in January 1981. By November '81 he had received the all clear to start jogging.
Mullins lasted 100 yards of a circuit around an American football pitch in New York when he had to stop, completely shattered. He realised then that a comeback would be even tougher than he imagined, but there was no denying his will to return.
MADNESS and mayhem on the pitch and a 30-second melee in the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms at half-time: they are the abiding memories that overshadow the Dublin All-Ireland victory of 1983.
Four sent off – three Dubliners and one from Galway – and a second half 12 v 14 gladiatorial contest gave rise to controversy and a bitter aftermath.
Whenever the 1983 final is discussed, these are the elements that arise for discussion. Sadly, the decider on September 18, 1983, has detracted from a remarkable season of revival for the Dubs. The story of Brian Mullins' recovery from a car crash that could easily have killed him was fascinating in itself.
Upon his return to the colours against Kildare in the Leinster semi-final of 1982, he clearly had physically changed.
Gone was the lean, gangly mean machine of pre-June 1980. The body had filled out, his gait betrayed a slight limp, the mobility was considerably lessened, but the heart, the iron will, and above all, his leadership and football nous remained.
Would Dublin have even reached the All-Ireland final in '83 if Mullins was not part of the team? On the day of the final, he was nine days short of his 30th birthday and yes, he was just one man among a panel that Kevin Heffernan had moulded into a formidable unit.
However, given his inspirational qualities and football intelligence, Mullins' role was crucial, particularly as they had quite a few young players in the side. Tommy Conroy, 19 in '83, has no doubts. “I don't think we would have won without Brian. “His ball-winning ability was fantastic.
His distribution was second to none and his leadership qualities were immense. “The tougher it got, the better he liked it,” he said. Most of the side were in their early to mid-twenties. In the defence, the older hands were Tommy Drumm and the irrepressible Mick Holden (RIP), both 28, and PJ Buckley was 27.
Full-forward Anton O'Toole was the veteran at 32. “Anton O'Toole was brilliant that year,” said Conroy. “Anton, Tommy, and Brian were so important to the team. Kevin Heffernan's team evolved into a settled unit as the '83 campaign reached the closing stages.
John O'Leary in goal had matured into a great shotstopper and organiser of the defence and was playing his fourth Leinster series at the age of 22.
The irrepressible Mick Holden, sadly now deceased, formed a solid full-back line alongside Gerry Hargan (22), and Ray Hazley (24). Tommy Drumm (28) captain and centre-back, was another leader. He was flanked by Pat Canavan (23) and PJ Buckley two men who had a great campaign that year.
Mullins was partnered in the middle mainly by Jim Ronayne, (24), with John Kearns (19) also available to come on when required. The half-forward line settled to a combination of John Caffrey,(25), brother of Pillar, Tommy Conroy (19) and Kieran Duff (22) Up front, the cutting edge was provided by Barney Rock (22), Anton O'Toole and Joe McNally (19).
The blend of youth and experience plus Heffernan's cute tactic of withdrawing Caffrey to form a three-man midfield helped the Dubs shock Offaly in the Leinster final. Joe McNally, who had played in goal for the Dubs minor team in 1982 and Caffrey got two first half goals as the Blues stormed to a 2-13 to 1-11 victory.
It was a huge upset in form. Then came the semi-final with Cork at Croke Park and Dublin were down and almost out. The tension was at fever pitch and Cork led by three points when a Mullins-Hazley-Rock move ended with Barney slotting home an equalising goal – joy for Dublin, a sickener for Cork. official Biography’ with Irish Independent GAA Correspondent Martin Breheny that he was already in the dressing room when it all kicked off outside in the tunnel.
Brian Mullins doesn't wish to discuss it, and Brian Talty says: “My answer for 25 years, and I'm not going to change it, is – I can't remember really. “I had already got a few big clatters out on the field. There was a shemozzle in the tunnel.
I came into it late. “I think somebody else was already involved in it. I did get a belt as I was going in, but it was all very brief – less than 30 seconds.” One thing is for certain – Brian Mullins' All-Ireland had finished after about 25 minutes of the final and Talty's was over by half-time.
Mullins had fought so hard to get himself back into an All- Ireland and one moment of madness when he swung his arm back and caught Talty on the side of the head gave ref John Gough no option but to send him off.
Talty never played in another All-Ireland and as he played his club football in Dublin, received, as he put it, “a good few belts playing for Parnells over it.” Ironic too, that these days Talty and Kieran Duff, who was one of three Dubliners sent off in the final, are part of Pillar Caffrey's backroom team as Dublin chase only their third All- Ireland in 25 years.
A lot of water has passed down the Liffey and the Corrib since September 18, 1983, and the two teams are due to have an altogether more friendly gathering together in the near future.
Conroy said: “We're going to be playing golf in the West of Ireland with the Galway lads of '83 the week before the All- Ireland. “I think it's great, and it shows that people can get over stuff that happens on the pitch.” The facts of the matter are that Dublin had three players sent off – Mullins (26 mins), Ray Hazley (30 mins) and Duff (40 mins), and Galway one –Tomas Tierney (30 mins) for clash with Hazley).
Referee John Gough said in the book ‘Classic Football Matches’ by Irish Independent columnist Eugene McGee: “Every player who was sent off deserved it. I don't see how any other referee could have done it differently if he was being fair and honest.
“There was an element of nastiness from the start. I had to book eight players apart from the ones I sent off. On reflection, I believe I was too tolerant that day.” Dublin led by 1-5 to 0-2 at half-time, and when Duff got his marching orders in the second half to make it 12 against 14, the ‘Defiant Dozen’ somehow managed to survive and win by 1-10 to 1-8.
Looking back, Talty denies there was a premeditated element to the physical confrontations. He has no doubts that the wind, the rain and slippery pitch conditions played a huge part in the controversial final.
Then there was the drive and desire of both sides to win and crucially, Galway got it wrong tactically. “It was a dirty old day, wet and windy with a gale force wind.
That was the worst of it, and in fact the gale helped Barney Rock get an early goal when he collected a kick-out by our goalkeeper Padraig Coyne.
“The beginning was fairly vicious with fellas sliding into each other. Nobody goes out to cause that and it wasn't planned, but it's an All-Ireland final and sentiment goes out the window. “The referee got a lot of stick, but I keep going back to the conditions. “Judging a ball was difficult and you were maybe bumping into a fella.
Later on the thumps got harder. “As far as Brian and myself are concerned, we were challenging for a high ball that fell between us. “Brian would be of the opinion that I pulled out of him. I probably did. I wasn't going to let him get the ball easily. He keeps telling me that he just gave me a small little skelp. “It was big enough, let's put it that way.
The medic's opinion was that I was concussed but I played on till half-time. “There were a few other big hits on me by Dublin players. “At half-time the medical team examined me and they didn't think I was fit to go out for the second half. “The real problem for us was that tactically we got it wrong and Kevin Heffernan got it right.
“He packed the middle of the field and left Joe McNally up front. Our style of catch and kick didn't suit having the extra men. “Defensively we were playing reasonably well but were getting the ball and pumping it down the field and Pat Canavan had a massive game for Dublin that day.
He just seemed to be catching everything. “Then again, we had frees we missed and we had loads of chances. “Eventually Stephen Joyce got a goal for us and there was only a couple of points in it. “There were one or two decisions that went against us .
“I remember one where Stephen Kinneavy was penalised for picking up the ball, and Barney Rock slotted over a 14- yard free from that late in the game. It all added up and it cost us, but being involved with the Dubs nowadays, I have to say I don't think the Dubs got the credit they deserved because of the controversy over the match.
“To actually win the game with 12 against 14 took huge performances from fellas. As Galway licked their wounds and Dubliners mixed celebration with indignation at strong punishments later meted out by the GAA authorities, mutual friends of Mullins and Talty had some decisions to make.
“Yeah, there were people who were friends of both of us, and for a little while some went one way and some went the other way, but came back to us after a short while. “Brian and I were and are friends, but when you play an All-Ireland final, on the day the sentiment is out the window.
It's all about winning a final and it's as simple as that.
“When I look back at it I remember at one stage The Mull saying to me ‘f*** it, you stopped me winning my All-Ireland.' “I said ‘for f*** sake, I haven't won one at all.'
“The fact is, it got messed up and we both lost out,” said Talty.