Friday 15 December 2017

Obituary: Denis Mahony

County football star and leading motor dealership owner, writes Liam Collins

Dublin STAR: Denis Mahony
Dublin STAR: Denis Mahony
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Denis Mahony, who died on Monday aged 87, was a leading figure in the Irish motor trade with a franchise for Toyota cars and was captain of the Dublin football team which lost to Kerry in the celebrated All-Ireland final of 1955.

Denis had been in the car business since leaving school, first in Smithfield and later when he started his own car leasing business at Glasnevin Hill, which became the Denis Mahony Group in 1963.

His younger brother, Tim, joined him after being fired from sale at Wavin Pipes.

In the early 1970s two Irish businessmen - Stephen O'Flaherty (the first assembler of VW cars outside Germany), and Jim Stafford, of the Wexford shipping family, acquired the rights to manufacture Japanese-made Toyota cars in Ireland. They managed to sell only 73 cars in their first year trading, 1973, and having fallen out with each other they sold their interest to the Mahony brothers.

Tim Mahony went to Japan and re-negotiated the original deal and the brothers began to assemble Toyota cars in Dublin, concentrating on the Corolla, the most reliable small car since the Volkswagen.

The brothers soon ended their partnership, with Tim taking over the assembling and later importing business when Toyota ended 'knockdown' production in Ireland in 1983. Denis, through Denis Mahony Holdings, built a distribution network. Last year, the company, run by Denis's son John, had a turnover of €48m and profits of €3.6m.

Denis was president of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry 1978-1979 and between his duties and his busy business life was a keen golfer.

Born on July 23, 1928 into a family originally from Cork, Denis Mahony grew up in Glasnevin, Dublin. His home backed on to Creamore Cricket Club and cricket became his first sporting love. That soon ended when he went to O'Connell Schools in the north inner city and he became a star defender with the school football team.

He joined St Vincent's GAA club, which had become the backbone of the Dublin football team. He soon became a pivotal player on the county team with Oliver Freaney, Kevin Heffernan and Paraic (Jock) Haughey, brother of Charlie. They pioneered a new type of fast and furious football and won a minor All-Ireland with Dublin in 1945 and two National League titles before the 1955 championship.

After beating a good Mayo team, which included Henry Kenny, father of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in a semi-final replay, Dublin prepared for an All-Ireland showdown with Kerry on September 25, 1955.

Mahony, known as 'Danno' by his teammates, was so stressed by the burden of expectations in the week running up to the game that he was admitted surreptitiously to Sir Patrick Dunn's Hospital by a team doctor. When word got out there was an influx of visitors and fans and the matron ordered him to leave.

The game provoked such excitement that British Rail had to put on special trains to Holyhead to ferry thousands of Irish navvies home for the final. On the day, 87,000 people crammed into Croke Park for the match and an estimated 4,000 more got in through two broken gates. However the "bright and articulate" Dublin, clear favourites, were overpowered by Kerry playing traditional catch and kick. Despite a goal five minutes from time by Oliver Freaney, Dublin lost 1:6 to 0:12.

"I had to go to the back of the Cusack Stand to congratulate the Kerry team and I came out crying," Mahony, who was team captain, said later. "You put so much into it and you know... that's sport."

Denis Mahony, who "occasionally took a bottle of stout", was one of only two players on the team to drink alcohol, the rest were members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

He had retired from the game by the time Dublin won the 1958 All-Ireland, captained by Kevin Heffernan.

Mahony became chairman of the Dublin GAA County Board the same year and served a four-year term but declined to continue to concentrate on his business career.

Although a major figure in the motor trade, Denis Mahony maintained a low profile. He lived most of his life in Malahide, with his wife Joan, with whom he had five children, Ita, Susan, John, Jeanne and Michelle.

In later years he attracted some unwanted attention when he was called before the Mahon Tribunal over payments of £10,000 and £2,000 to lobbyist Frank Dunlop over land which he successfully had rezoned at Drumnigh, between Portmarnock and Malahide. He said that it was a simple business deal as the Mahony land was ideal for low density housing and were subsequently built on.

Denis Mahony died peacefully at his home in Quinta do Lago, Portugal.

He will be buried after Requiem Mass in Malahide, Co Dublin on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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