Saturday 22 October 2016

12 Days of Kimmage: Paul chats to Dublin legend David Hickey about his sporting values

Over the Christmas/New Year period we'll be looking back at some of Paul Kimmage's big interviews of 2015. Here's his sit-down with Dublin football hero David Hickey

Published 30/12/2015 | 06:00

David Hickey: still loves Dublin football
David Hickey: still loves Dublin football
Dave Hickey with Eoghan O'Gara
David Hickey pulls the trigger in the 1977 All-Ireland semi-final: ‘We were lucky in ‘77 — that could have gone either way — but there was never any doubt who was going to win in ‘76’

Here's how it starts. It's a Sunday afternoon and I'm lying on my bed with a pair of headphones on, trawling through books and papers and podcasts, when my daughter runs into the room. "What's so funny, Dad?" "That is so good," I reply. "What?" "Naah, you wouldn't get it." "Whaaaat?" "Okay, I'll play it for you."

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It's a podcast of The Marian Finucane Show from July 2010; Rachel English is in the chair and she's asking David Hickey about the 1999 All-Ireland final and his decision to walk onto the field with the Dublin team from '74 wearing a T-shirt reading 'End Cuban Blockade'.

Rachel is curious: It was a day of celebration. He was there to receive a medal. Was there shock and consternation from the GAA? What was he trying to achieve? "The ideal from my perspective," he explains, "was a baton charge from the cops, the Dublin team from the 70s defending me and Amnesty International getting involved."

It is quintessential Hickey but I'm the only one who laughs. Maybe you've got to love him.

Hickey has always been a hero to me. I was 12 years old in 1974 when he won the first of his three All-Irelands, against Galway, and his goal three years later in the 'Game of the Century' against Kerry was the first climax I'd known. Brian Mullins earned more headlines and Jimmy Keaveney scored more points but Hickey had more . . . je ne sais quoi.

A certain look, a certain wit, a certain style.

On Monday, we met for the first time at his home in north Dublin. He was wearing a blue Dublin tracksuit and within seconds of shaking his hand it was obvious I was in the presence of a unique and brilliant man.

"See you've brought a couple of books," he said.

"Yeah, reference."

"Whenever a book comes out on Gaelic football, I immediately go to the index, and I'll buy it on the basis of the number of times I'm mentioned."

"That's so true, David," I laughed. "But I don't know anyone who would ever admit to it."

We sat down and started with the one 'H' above him in the index of Dublin greats . . . Heffernan

1. The mantra of his life

Polonius is a character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet. He is chief counsellor of the King, and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Wikipedia

Paul Kimmage: What's your first memory of Kevin Heffernan?

David Hickey: My first memory of Kevin was the first game I ever played for Dublin as a 15-year-old minor in Naas against Kildare in December 1967. And what's amazing when I look back is that he seemed like an old man, but he was 20 years younger than I am now! Even in '74, we felt he was an old man and he was only 45 or 46! But he had an aura about him.

PK: Even then?

DH: Even then. I mean he was unapproachable, he understood that a genuine football manager had to have distance between himself and the team. And he was distant. He was cold. I played for him from '67 to '83 and I don't think he ever told me 'well played,' He only told you if you played badly. (laughs). He had that strength, or that savagery - it's my way or the highway. His attitude to motivation was like Lou Holtz (an American football coach): "Motivation is easy - we eliminate the unmotivated." That's how he motivated you - if you weren't motivated, you were out of the game. But I was one of his 'boys' and have fond memories of him, obviously. He didn't like being outside Dublin, so when we'd open a football pitch in Bothar Bui in West Cork we'd be up and down in the same day, because Kevin liked to be back in the Big Smoke by sundown. We never had a weekend away. There was no such thing as these training camps in the south of Spain.

PK: You're one of the most eminent surgeons in the country but in every interview I've read, it's playing for Dublin that has meant most to you. How do you explain that?

DH: My first memory of Dublin sport was the All-Ireland hurling final in 1961. I'd have been nine at the time and we were on holidays in Lahinch and I remember listening to the radio and Bill Jackson getting a goal two minutes from the end and almost pulling it off. The next year Kerry played Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final and we were in absolute tears because we were beaten, and our country cousins were laughing at us. I used to go to mass on Sunday and pray they would win and then head off to Croke Park with my dad. We saw Des Foley on the street once and couldn't believe our luck. It was my only ambition in life.

PK: Your father was a civil engineer?

DH: Yeah, he had a small construction company and probably the greatest accolade I could pay to him was that there wasn't a single politician or bank manager or person of that nature at his funeral, even though he spent his life in the construction industry. There was never a brown envelope or any of that shite.

PK: Where was he from?

DH: He was born in Doneraile in Cork and went to school and played rugby at Waterpark and UCD. He was a sort of social worker with a big business; I still meet guys around the place who worked with him as labourers and have fond memories of him. I used to work every summer on the roads from the time I was 12; first making tea for the lads and then graduating to the jack hammer, which was the ultimate (laughs). It was a wonderful education.

PK: Your mother was a nurse?

DH: My mother left Knocklong in County Limerick and went to England during the blitz in 1941. She was 17 years old and left with absolutely nothing except her handbag and a few clothes. Her sister was a nurse in Southend and she did her nursing there. She was a very interesting character.

PK: What made her interesting?

DH: She had an incredible love for the English language, and no matter what we did she'd throw some Shakespearean thing in our face. Polonius' advice to his son was rammed down our throat non-stop, and we hated bloody Shakespeare growing up, but there's an awful lot of great stuff there.

PK: What was Polonius' advice to his son?

DH: "Oh costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, rich not gaudy," was one, but the big one was: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it follows as the night be day, thou canst be false to any man." That was the mantra of our life. She was a straight shooter and if she didn't like you it wasn't ambivalent - you would not be coming back to her house. She had six kids and her life, and my dad's life, was those kids. We were all they were ever interested in; they had no personal wealth.

PK: Where did you come?

DH: I'm the oldest, then Pat, Michael, Ellen, Brian and Conor.

PK: You grew up in Portmarnock but played for Raheny?

DH: There was no club in Portmarnock, and we tried to join Vincent's and couldn't get in, but Raheny signed us on. There was a fella there called Brendan Lee - one of these heroic types (you find) in every Gaelic club in the country. He had an old blue Volkswagen van and would pick up guys on Saturday and Sunday morning. He'd drag them out of bed, get gear for them, bail them out of problems and keep them out of jail - an unpaid social worker as much as a football man, a saint really.

PK: Your first senior championship game for Dublin was in 1970?

DH: Yeah, I got on the team in '69 and think I have the record as the youngest player to play senior football for Dublin.

PK: What age?

DH: 17. We played Monaghan in Carrickmacross - now there's a baptism of fire - but we went five years without winning a championship match. The first championship match I ever won playing for Dublin was in 1974 against Wexford.

PK: You were studying medicine at UCD and you played rugby there?

DH: South Dublin was all rugby and I was sick listening to these guys saying that the 1's and the 2's and the 3's at UCD were a higher standard than me playing Gaelic football. I said, "I'll tell you what - I'll be on the first team at UCD in six weeks, because I don't think the standard is that good at all." So that's the reason I played rugby.

PK: To prove a point?

DH: Just to prove a point. I gave it a fairly serious whack for a year in '73 and more or less dropped out of the Dublin scene, but we were knocked out by Bective in the first round of the championship in '74 and that evening Heffernan was on the phone. Now, he didn't give a shite about rugby: it was, "I hear you lost today. We're training on Tuesday night and want you to come down."

PK: Your first game that year was against Wexford in the championship at Croke Park. How many people were there?

DH: Twenty-odd thousand but they weren't there for us - we were a curtain raiser to the National League final between Kerry and Roscommon.

PK: How many Dublin supporters?

DH: A handful. I'd have pictures - I don't know where they are now - but my ma used to go into the Evening Press every Monday and order any photograph that had any bit of me - a leg or an arm or my hair (laughs). But there would be pictures of a guy with a cigarette watching the match in the Hogan Stand and you'd know him! It was Uncle Joe or somebody (laughs).

PK: Uncle Joe was the Blue Army?

DH: Yeah, we weren't on the radar. Shels were getting bigger crowds in Tolka Park then we were getting in Croke Park.

PK: Here's a quote from Heffernan: "I have a distinct memory walking down O'Connell Street some time in the summer of 1974. It was a lovely sunny Saturday morning and I remember feeling there was a bit of a buzz. I said to myself, it's great to be coming now. The economy was slumped. There was no soccer team going well. The rugby team were struggling. We were arriving. There was space for us to make a difference." Did you have a sense of that?

DH: No, it became exciting towards the end when it became Heffo's Army but the early part was . . . I mean, we beat Wexford and played Offaly, a big win for us, and there was nobody there. I wouldn't have felt any enthusiasm for our team until we beat Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

PK: That was the start of it?

DH: That was the start of it, and that's interesting too because we were competing with the Horse Show for the live outside broadcast on RTE and we lost! They had one camera up in the rafters in black and white and possibly our best game ever is not in the archives! They were showing Lady Montgomery hopping over hurdles in Ballsbridge! But that was a great occasion. There were 42,000 at that match and it was the first time I heard a crescendo when we came onto the pitch. I remember looking over at Jimmy Barry-Murphy and some of the other superstars in the parade and wondering was I in the wrong place. But Cork were wondering what we were doing there as well and they got their comeuppance.

PK: How long was it to the final?

DH: Six bloody weeks! That was the fourth of August I think, and we didn't play again until the 22nd of September. It was difficult keeping that going but Heffernan managed to do it.

PK: You woke up in Portmarnock that morning?

DH: I don't know if we went to mass or not - probably did. Mum used to do rashers grilled with the fat taken off them for breakfast and the house was pandemonium. Jimmy Keaveney lived in Portmarnock and I think he picked me up and we met (the team) in Na Fianna or Vincent's and got a bus to Croke Park. We expected to beat Galway and the game was closer on the scoreboard than it was in reality. It was a good Galway team and they had some great fellas like Johnny Hughes and TJ Gilmore - fantastic Corinthian sportsmen - but we never really felt we were going to lose.

PK: How did it feel to win?

DH: Is that it? A little bit underwhelming. It was a lousy day, and the profile of the team was such that no hotel in Dublin would take us for the reception.

PK: You're joking?

DH: I'm not, it was either that the Dublin County Board wouldn't pay for an hotel or the feeling that the crowd that followed us would cause trouble, so we had our (reception) in pissing rain down at the Cill Dara Hotel in Kildare. I didn't enjoy it anyway. Could you imagine a Dublin hotel being offered the team today? They would be bidding for it.

PK: I'm pretty sure you brought the Sam Maguire to my school that year.

DH: I'd bet I did because that was the one thing I loved, going to the schools and the hospitals. I was available for every one, and the visits around the north county. We came to Balbriggan and they had this hay cart and a big turf fire lighting and we were paraded through the town like heroes.

2. Goal of the Century

Heffernan started off with Hickey. "Davey, what are you going to do?"

"Don't mind what I'm going to do, Kevin. We're going to beat the shite out of these bogtrotters. We have the best forwards in the game, the defence aren't great, their passing is shite, but if they give me the ball anywhere, even the shite passes, I'll fight for them and I'll pass it to Jimmy within a yard either side. Don't waste time on anxiety. We are going to win this game." Tom Humphries, Dublin v Kerry

PK: A year later you meet Kerry in the All-Ireland final.

DH: Yeah, we'd played well all year; walked through Leinster, had a good semi-final against Derry and then, for the final, he couldn't leave us alone. The week of the All-Ireland was a week like this - it rained every night - and we were out every night. The training had become the end, rather than the means to an end, and we were just flaked.

PK: What was it?

DH: Kevin's anxiety - he had some sort of hang-up about Kerry. We were over-trained and over-confident; we believed our own propaganda and exactly what had happened to Cork the year before, happened to us.

PK: How did the pain of defeat compare to the joy of winning?

DH: Well, you couldn't imagine the difference. It was a pissy-wet day and we played, got the shite kicked out of us, went into our dressing room and there were no showers. And some fecker came in with a hose and said he would hose us down if we liked! And then we went down to the Green Isle Hotel - which probably isn't in Dublin either - and that was the worst night of our lives. Everyone was pissed off and I don't think anyone stayed around for the end of it. It was a miserable experience.

PK: A year later you meet again in the '76 final and you make this amazing speech in the build-up to the game: "We're going to beat the shite out of these bogtrotters!"

DH: No. My parents are from the country; I spent every summer of my childhood making hay in County Limerick; I would never have said that. I certainly would have said, "We'll beat the shite out of them," because I believed that, but I would never have called (them bogtrotters). And I'm afraid I'm going to have to spoil a great story but that is absolutely untrue.

PK: Here's another great story from a profile by David Walsh: "There was, about Hickey, a wonderful assurance. Bobby Doyle and he were walking down O'Connell Street during the seventies and every second person recognized Doyle. "Howya Doyler", "Good man Bobby", "Fair dues to you Doyler". Nobody recognised Hickey. Doyle felt, well, a little chuffed. That was, of course, until Hickey turned to him and said: "It appears Bobby that a lot of these gurriers know you."

DH: (Laughs) Well, the fact that he was known and I wasn't is certainly true. And that certainly would have been irksome for me because I knew I was a much better footballer . . . but I wouldn't have that sort of disrespect for people to be honest with you, and would never have articulated a comment like that about Dublin people.

PK: But it's a great story and there have been a lot of them attributed to you over the years.

DH: (Laughs) Yeah, and they get better as time goes on, but I would not have used that language.

PK: Would Heffernan?

DH: Probably.

PK: How big was it to come back and win in '76?

DH: Our greatest victory.

PK: Not '77?

DH: No.

PK: Why?

DH: We blew them out of the water that day. We were lucky in '77 - that could have gone either way - but there was never any doubt who was going to win in '76. And it was the last time things were more or less equal between the two teams because our guys were getting older. But I remember the last ten minutes of that game and it was like bliss; we just couldn't be caught at this stage, Kerry were gone and you were lapping it up.

PK: I would have thought the ecstasy of your goal in '77 would colour everything? You've a photo of it here (it's captioned): 'The Goal of the Century'.

DH: (Laughs) My father did that and . . . yeah, that was my moment, but it wouldn't touch '76.

PK: Kevin Moran joined the team that year.

DH: I remember him in his first game; we played a friendly down in Kerry and he played centre-forward and you could see he was good. And he was good because he just settled in. We were big fucking names and this young kid just (slips straight in)! He had great belief, great physicality, fit, brave as hell - a modest footballer but all the other elements just combined into a wonderful guy.

PK: How did you feel when he left for Man United?

DH: I was devastated. I couldn't imagine him taking a step down like that. We did wonder what he was giving up for what he was getting, but what Kevin showed, I think, was that if you're used to playing in big environments and can handle that; if you're courageous, and brave and intelligent - and Kevin would have had that over most of these guys playing Premiership soccer - you can play any sport. He did not stand out as a talented footballer in terms of supreme skill, but all his other qualities made him a man who played for ten years at Man U and won multiple caps for Ireland.

PK: How did you feel watching him in those games?

DH: I always felt he was undervalued. I remember him breaking his neck to win balls and handing them to fuckers like (Mark) Lawrenson and Phil Babb and that irritated me. But what amazed me was the difference: Gaelic football is a free-spirited communal effort; professional soccer is slavery. I remember Tony Hanahoe went over with Heffernan to meet David Sexton (the Manchester United manager) and Kevin came in and it was: "Hello Kevin" "Hello Tony" "Hello boss" . . . or "Gaffer" and all this shite. You did what you were told and you weren't to have any opinions on anything.

PK: Professional sport wouldn't have appealed to you?

DH: If I could have played soccer for Sampdoria, Inter Milan or AC Milan, I would have gone like a shot.

PK: But not Manchester United?

DH: Not in a million years. I would have no interest in anything to do with England.

PK: Why not?

DH: Two things that really irritate me in life are Man U and Glasgow Celtic and people here who talk about "We beat Chelsea at the weekend," that just gets up my nose and has done since I was a kid. But I would have loved to have played soccer in Italy.

PK: Why does it get up your nose?

DH: Why? Because it's nothing to do with we, it's total exploitation. I (don't understand) these people who spend all their money to go over and watch these guys. I mean, as punishment for losing to Donegal last year we got a trip to Stamford Bridge to see Chelsea and Hull. Now, I know we played crap against Donegal but we certainly didn't deserve that. And I'll tell you, that's one of the reasons we're going to win the All-Ireland this year.

PK: That bad?

DH: I've never seen anything so artificial. There was one English guy playing on the Chelsea team, and I don't know who was playing on the Hull team because I'd never heard of any of them, and will never hear of them again. Hull knew they couldn't win; Chelsea knew they couldn't lose; but the thing that really amazed me was the instructions for supporters in the programme. Number 1: You were forbidden to wear anything resembling the Hull colours. Number 2: Any support for good play or a score by Hull could result in immediate expulsion from the ground.

PK: Wow!

DH: So if Hull got a wonderful overhead kick from a corner flag and you actually clapped it, you could get the shite bet out of you by the local supporters and the security guys could expel you from the ground! Because it's so inflammatory, I guess, to do that there that you could have a riot on your hands in five minutes! So that's why I never had any time for English soccer, but Man U in particular I mean, yuughh! And the current . . . who's running them . . . Jesus! What an artificial gobshite!

PK: You never went to Old Trafford to watch Kevin play?

DH: No, I saw him play in Paris in 1982 for Ireland against France.

PK: Have you ever have discussed your views on Manchester United with him?

DH: He'd probably agree with me (laughs). I think he's on record saying the '76 final was his best (achievement), and that includes FA Cups and Championships and all sorts of things. Because there's a far bigger, and more genuine, connection between the community and the team. I mean we had a night out for kids the other night in Parnell Park; it started at six and ended at nearly ten o'clock and Clucko (Stephen Cluxton) was there with his back to the wall signing autographs at half-nine. And they stay and they pose for photographs and they don't see themselves as being apart.

3. Our Man in Havana

Early in 2006 David Hickey, by now an organ transplant surgeon of international renown, became ill himself. It was one of those sunlit afternoons when life for no apparent reason delivers a sickening kick to the groin. Hickey's old marker, Páidí Ó Sé, drove from Kerry to Beaumont Hospital when he heard. Hickey had checked out by the time his old foe arrived. Páidí didn't regret the journey. Kerry players called and wrote and rang. The Dubs gathered tight around their man, the light of the dressing room for so many years. And Heffernan was a constant and concerned presence. The small difference between them didn't matter. It was football and it was family and one lasts longer than the other. Tom Humphries, 'Dublin v Kerry'

PK: Tell me about your life in medicine; '76 was your final year at UCD and then you spent four years here before leaving for France in 1980. You played rugby there?

DH: I went to La Rochelle. The president of the club was a surgeon and I scrubbed in with him in the theatre and did rounds with him. Essentially I was his assistant; it wasn't too arduous or serious. I was there to play rugby and keep my hand in at the surgery.

PK: You were there to play rugby?

DH: Yes. It wasn't to do surgery, sure I wasn't even on the stepladder of surgery at the time. I'd been working as a casualty officer in Steevens' Hospital up to that but I wanted to play rugby in France. Ollie Campbell organised it for me; it was an extension of my childhood - we got paid and I got an apartment and there were a couple of restaurants where you didn't have to pay for dinner and it was wonderful. But I never had any intention of actually doing surgery full-time for a long time in France.

PK: When did that start?

DH I came back at the end of '82 and played for Dublin that summer - Heffernan had me back - and went down to Ardkeen in Waterford and was registrar in surgery down there, which is a career apprenticeship in the Irish system to become a surgeon. Then I went to Memphis and did a cancer fellowship in neurological cancer - bladder, prostate and kidney - and came back then and worked in transplantation for a while. I went to Pittsburgh for two years after that and worked with some of the biggest names in world surgery and would have liked to stay longer but for other reasons I came back here.

PK: What were the other reasons?

DH: A job came up here in Beaumont in 1990 and there were no applicants so I got it, and I've been involved in transplantation ever since.

PK: It's not an easy life. You gave a speech to the Oireachtas a couple of years ago: "There is a worldwide shortage of trained and capable transplant surgeons, this is because of the lifestyle and unfriendly nature of the work which involves much night work and weekend work."

DH: Yeah, that's true, I mean the organ donation . . . you depend on poor kids falling off motorbikes, or falling down stairs at parties and all this happens at weekends or at night, so a lot of the work is night time. It's very lifestyle unfriendly and there is no private practice within it so it's not very attractive for a lot of guys who spend 20 years studying and expect to be remunerated in it.

PK: But you were never driven by money?

DH: Well, as someone says, I can't take credit for resisting a temptation that was never offered to me (laughs). Do you know what I mean? The job I ended up in, and loved, was transplantation so that was never an option. I had a small private practice for a while in Beaumont but I always felt . . . you're talking life and death to people and then you've got your hand out . . . I mean, it was just tacky for me. I just can't do it.

PK: What do you love about it?

DH: I guess to be able to go to work on a Monday and never think 'Oh my God' or to not have any dread; you're working with the families who donate and the families who receive; you're on that River Styx, transporting souls and bodies and body parts in both directions.

PK: A conduit between life and death?

DH: You are. It's amazing. There's a donor service every October in the church on Griffith Avenue and it's a spiritual experience - you should go to it sometime. You have all these families lining up to bring up a candle in memory of their husband or wife or brother or sister who died - young boys with their mammy or dad gone. Unbelievable. It's . . . goodness and spirituality in a country that is just becoming more and more spiritually impoverished and materialistic and greedy. And the values that thing still holds are immense.

PK: You had your own brush with death in 2006?

DH: I was giving a talk in - of all places - Qatar, and the guy after me was a guy called (Miso) Virag from Croatia, and he was talking about the subtle signs of sinus cancer. And one of the subtle signs I had was when I wore sunglasses - the right glass was getting fogged up all the time. And nobody noticed this, but my eye was being pushed forward and it was closer to the glass on the right side. So he mentioned this in his talk and when I went back I had it checked by Mike Walsh, one of our ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) guys in Beaumont and he said "You've got a big problem here."

PK: You described the treatment as, "a bit like playing Wexford in the first round of the Leinster Championship - a very painful and unpleasant experience but you know you'll get through it."

DH: I don't think it's as bad as playing Wexford (laughs). Mike took out the tumour that was in behind my eye but he couldn't get it all out because it was on the optic nerve. I went to Toronto for treatment and they did a great job and were very humane but it's an ordeal. They make a mask for your face and you're screwed onto a gantry; they're shooting a huge amount of radiation and if you move you'll damage your eye, so you're screwed onto this thing every morning.

PK: For how long?

DH: It was 35 treatments, five times a week for six or seven weeks, and you're counting down the days one by one. I was getting chemo at the same time and eventually you get to day 35 and they say, "Listen, I know you think this is over but the toxicity is cumulative for another month, so if you feel like shite today, you're going to feel worse in a month's time."

PK: It gets worse?

DH: It accumulates, but we finished up in Cuba to recuperate and it was life saving.

PK: Life saving?

DH: Yeah, the Department of Health in Cuba had a guy waiting for us at the airport and we were brought to the Melia Hotel in Havana where we normally stay and they gave us a suite on the top floor. I was pale as a ghost and couldn't eat because my throat was inflamed but I sat on my balcony overlooking the Caribbean Atlantic and there was this lovely warm wind coming through. And just the good will of the medical profession there. . .

PK: You love Cuba? When did that start?

DH: I've admired (Teofilo) Stevenson and (Alberto) Juantorena, who I've met, since the Montreal Olympics but the first time I had any real contact with them was in '91 or '92. I was trying to get the pancreas transplant programme going here and went (for training) to Lyon for a month and met a young surgeon there from Cuba, called Pedro Albelate and he just impressed me. He had no money and lived in a lousy flat but he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave and always impeccably dressed. Everything he saw and learnt there was going back to Cuba. He was a great character and in '99 I decided to visit him, but he had been killed in a plane crash.

PK: That was your first time there?

DH: Yeah, so I've kinda been a Cubaphile ever since. I married Yamile, who's Cuban. She's a neurosurgeon and we have a youngfella who's an absolute wiseass and has the same Latino temperament as his mother so it's a tough life. (Laughs)

PK: What's his name?

DH: David - not my choice - but we call him Hombi.

PK: Hombi?

DH: Yeah, a hombrecito is a little man so we shortened to 'Hombi,' because he's been a little man from the time he could walk. He knows all the Dublin team and hangs out with them - Diarmuid (Connolly), Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh (Macauley), Eoghan O'Gara - he goes for the badasses (laughs).

PK: Tell me about your return to the Dublin team. It was three years after your surgery when Pat Gilroy invited you back?

DH: Yeah, it was after 2009 when they were hammered (by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final). I don't know where it came from - I hadn't seen a Dublin club game in ten years - but I think he wanted to connect with the '70s.

PK: In 2010 you said: "Pat Gilroy has a commitment to the values of Gaelic football that in some ways is the last vestige of genuine Irishness and Irish values." What did you mean?

DH: He banned all this soccer stuff of kissing the badge and running to the Hill. There was to be no sledging: you respected the opposition, worked hard and cleaned the dressing room when you came in - there were no servants on this team. It was a lousy winter that year. They started training at 6.0 in the morning out by Clontarf and the Bull Wall and there was snow on the ground. They worked and worked and a lot of guys left but he ended up with a core of fellas who bought into it. It was Corinthian in the maximum sense - you strive, you're honest, you don't cheat and you congratulate the other guy if he beats you.

PK: You were a selector with Gilroy, and when Jim Gavin came in you became the doctor?

DH: Yeah.

PK: He didn't want you as a selector?

DH: I don't think he wanted me as a doctor either but he couldn't get out of it (laughs). No, I'm being facetious. Ciaran O'Malley does most of medical work. I pulled a hamstring running onto the field in a league match against Mayo - the worst injury I ever got - and couldn't walk for a month after it, so Ciaran does all the running now. I make the phone calls to Ray Moran (the surgeon).

PK: But you're in the inner sanctum?

DH: Yeah.

PK: Working with the sons of guys you played with?

DH: That's right, James McCarthy and the two Brogans.

PK: How does that feel?

DH: It's fantastic in a way because the three of them are chips off the old block . . . well, Alan less so. The two Bernards are alike, Alan is quieter, but young James is a mirror image of the oul' fella (laughs).

PK: What's it like watching them from the dugout?

DH: I get very uptight and verbal.

PK: Really?

DH: I do actually; I love this group of guys. I was with Pat at the start of this team and I've watched them develop and achieve and underachieve. They are probably . . . well, not probably, the best group of footballers Dublin have ever had.

PK: How does being involved in a winning team compare to playing in one?

DH: I got a great kick out of that 2011 final - McManamon's goal and Clucko's point. It meant more to me in some ways because I knew the kids and how hard they had worked, and your own stuff is gone in a blur and you live it through the old videos.

PK: Has Hombi watched those games?

DH: He has, yeah.

PK: What does he think of his old man?

DH: (Laughs) Oh, he has me right up there with Dermo, and no better accolade can a man get.

Sunday Indo Sport

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