Monday 20 October 2014

Kevin Heffernan

Published 27/01/2013 | 05:00

Heffo's death deprives the GAA of an innovative giant, writes Dermot Gilleece

As a measure of greatness in competitive sport, full names are very often considered superfluous. So it was for Heffo.

As Kevin Heffernan, he had a distinguished administrative career involving the ESB, the Labour Court and Bord na gCon. But as an outstanding dual player with Dublin who went on to become the county's first football manager, he was simply Heffo. And his death will leave a huge void in the GAA where he was widely acknowledged as an innovative giant.

His importance to the resurgence of Gaelic games in Dublin cannot be overstated. When he took command of the football team in 1973, they had suffered the indignity of relegation in the National League. Then, against all the odds, they became All-Ireland champions in 1974, bridging an 11-year gap since their previous success in 1963.

Away from sport, Heffernan became one of the country's foremost industrial relations executives. He spent 36 years in the personnel department of the ESB, rising to manager of industrial relations. Then came an appointment as an officer of the Labour Court and later its chairman. During his tenure there, he is credited with having greatly streamlined the resolution of disputes about industrial relations, equality, organisation of working time, national minimum wage, part-time work, fixed-term work along with safety, health and welfare.

A great lover of greyhounds, he was seconded to chair a committee which made wide-ranging and fruitful proposals to radically alter the way greyhound racing is administered, especially in relation to drugs testing.

He was essentially a very private person. Jimmy Gray, who was chairman of the Dublin County Board during the glorious Seventies, said: "When we talked about a year ago, he told me he had made only a few friends in his life and that I was one of them. Yet I never really got to know him. I always found him to be a deep fellow who didn't suffer fools gladly."

Heffernan looked for three basic requirements in a player: brains, courage and skill, in that order. "He never deviated from this," said Gray, "though I'm sure he had to make compromise choices along the way."

His zeal in leading Dublin to greatness was fired to a significant degree by the acute disappointment of having played in a losing Dublin team against Kerry in the 1955 All-Ireland final. Even the distinction of captaining Dublin to All-Ireland glory three years later didn't seem to ease that hurt.

It was removed emphatically, however, by All-Ireland triumphs in 1974, 1976 and again in 1983, after he had taken a break from managerial duties. Inevitably these included memorable victories over the Kingdom. And along the way, Heffo's Army of supporters was born.

Born on August 20, 1929, Heffernan attended Scoil Mhuire, Marino, and St Joseph's Fairview, where he made his mark as a gifted exponent of Gaelic games. On leaving school, his sporting career coincided with a hugely successful period for St Vincent's GAA Club where he won no fewer than 15 Senior County Football and six Hurling Championship medals.

His first success at inter-county level was the All-Ireland Junior Football title with Dublin in 1948. Then came National League medals in 1953 and 1955.

In 1984, the GAA's centenary year, he was named left corner-forward on the Football Team of the Century and his iconic status was further endorsed in 2000 when filling the same position in the Football Team of the Millennium. In the meantime, he managed Ireland to victory over Australia in the International Rules series of 1986.

He received an honorary doctor of law degree from University College Dublin in 2004. Then came the ultimate accolade from his native place when he was granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 2005.

Sport, Page 10

Sunday Independent

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