Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 30 August 2014

Name new city bridge after Heffo

Martin Breheny

Published 24/04/2013 | 05:00

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Kevin Heffernan did much to raise Dublin GAA’s profile by guiding the capital’s footballers to so much success – now it’s time for the city to acknowledge those efforts

FORTY years ago next autumn, concern over the state of Dublin football stretched beyond those who were charged with directly running its affairs and into Croke Park, where it was recognised that an Association without a thriving team in the capital would lose large slices of the national sporting cake to other codes.

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It was an era when, thanks to improving aerial technology, BBC's 'Match of the Day' on Saturday nights and ITV's 'The Big Match' on Sunday afternoons were penetrating ever deeper into the Irish sporting psyche – not just in Dublin but all around the country.

Meanwhile, GAA offerings on TV were confined to live coverage of the All-Ireland football semi-finals and final, the All-Ireland hurling final and the Railway Cup finals on St Patrick's Day.

There was a genuine fear in the GAA that slickly presented BBC/ITV soccer highlight packages would irretrievably capture the hearts and minds of impressionable young Irish lads, encouraging them to ignore Gaelic games.

Dublin, with its rapidly increasing population, was always going to be a crucial battleground.

In those circumstances, the decline in the fortunes of Dublin football was worrying for the GAA. Dublin won the 1963 All-Ireland title but, 10 years later, were in Division 2 of the NFL and hadn't reached a Leinster final for eight years.

Tailspin

Their 1973 Leinster campaign ended in a first-round defeat by Louth. Shortly afterwards, as the GAA absorbed the implications of Dublin's tailspin, the then president, Dr Donal Keenan, declared: "The GAA will have to consider what help is to be given to the Dublin County Board."

He was thinking of a longer-term strategy but county board chairman Jimmy Gray had a more immediate plan in mind. Why not appoint Kevin Heffernan as team manager?

Gray reckoned that what Dublin needed was a real leader, a man who cared deeply about his county's fortunes and who had the persuasive powers necessary to bring others with him on a great adventure.

Heffernan, an iconic figure in his playing days and an intelligent thinker on how a team should be run, was the obvious choice.

It took a while for Gray to convince his target but Heffernan eventually accepted the challenge at the end of 1973. Donal Colfer and Lorcan Redmond, two other great Dublin football men, were appointed as co-selectors. A new era was about to begin.

Almost 40 years on, Dublin City Council are considering who should be honoured by having the new city centre bridge, linking Marlborough Street and Hawkins Street, named after them.

Is there a more deserving candidate than Heffernan?

The rapid resurgence of Dublin football under 'Heffo' in 1974 has been well documented. He created more than a following for the team – in fact, it became a movement which played a huge role in re-popularising Gaelic games in the city.

Nobody should ever under-estimate what that has done, not only for the GAA in Dublin but nationally, too. That almost certainly includes having Croke Park as the super stadium that it now is, because without a vibrant Dublin scene, redeveloping HQ on such an ambitious scale would not have made sense, either in practical or financial terms.

That apart, if soccer and rugby had taken over in the city and its environs – something which looked in danger of happening in the early 1970s – the GAA would now be in a much weaker position overall.

So, too, would the many communities who have benefited from the surge of interest in GAA in Dublin.

This does not bestow greater credit on Dublin GAA clubs than their country counterparts for enhancing community life. Indeed, the remarkable facilities provided by even the smallest rural clubs are a tribute to unquenchable local spirit.

However, naming the new bridge across the Liffey is a matter for Dublin only. It's also an opportunity for the GAA community in Dublin to lobby for recognition of the hugely positive role the Association plays in the city and county.

What better way to lock that into an expression of permanency, togetherness (the bridge links north and south) and a confident assertion of what the largest sporting organisation represents than to unite it through the memory of a man who epitomised everything that the GAA stands for?

As for the stipulation that a bridge can only be named after someone who is dead for 20 years, how ridiculous is that? This should be about making the right choice, not one dictated by a daft rule.

Kevin Heffernan Bridge – it has a nice ring to it. A deserved one, too.

Irish Independent

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