‘There must have been about 40 All-Ireland medals’ among the mourners, says former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Their epic midfield battles in the 1970s will go down in the annals of history – and to this day, Kerry legend Jack O’Shea still believes that former Dublin footballer Brian Mullins was “the toughest player” he ever came up against.
He recalled the iconic GAA star, whose funeral was held today, as “a phenomenal player” and an inspirational leader, as well as “a great character, on and off the pitch”.
“People often ask, ‘Who was the toughest player you ever played against?’ and I’d always say ‘It would have to be Brian’,” said O’Shea.
“Because if Brian saw the ball, he was going for it and there was nothing going to stop him getting it.
“Every time he played, he went to his limit. He was very determined.”
During Dublin’s more recent golden era, O’Shea had sat beside his former rival for some of the All-Ireland finals when Dublin beat Kerry, and chuckled at the memory of Mullins’s animated reaction.
“He was nearly getting up off his seat, playing the game as he was going on,” said O’Shea.
“He never liked Kerry to win, but he always respected it when they did. He liked good football.”
The legendary midfielder died last week at the age of 68 after a short illness.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who came to pay his respects, estimated that “there must have been about 40 All-Ireland medals” among the mourners who congregated yesterday at Jennings Funeral Home in Coolock.
Together with O’Shea were other Kerry greats including Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston, former Kerry captain and manager Mickey Ned O’Sullivan and former Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan.
Several of Mullins’s team-mates on the legendary Dublin side were there yesterday including Seán Doherty, with whom he won a first All-Ireland, Bobby Doyle, Tommy Drumm – who captained the All-Ireland-winning side in 1983 – Robbie Kelleher and Barney Rock, father of current Dublin star Dean.
Also present were Louth manager Mickey Harte, former Galway player and manager Liam Sammon, former Cork captain and manager Billy Morgan and Leinster Rugby’s head of rugby operations, Guy Easterby.
A delegation from the Derry County Board – Mullins managed the senior footballers in the mid-1990s – made the trip, while architect Dermot Bannon was also present, due to a family connection.
Bobby Doyle recalled Mullins as the “very best player he played with or against”.
“People try and make comparisons with Brian but to me it’s very hard to compare generations,” he said.
“To me, the very best player I played with or against during that period was Brian, and that’s because when we were getting beaten, that’s when he was at his best. He’d win that ball and put you on the attack again. Other fellows would be waiting for it to happen.”
RTÉ presenter Des Cahill paid tribute to Mullins for his athleticism, his strength and determination, and his leadership.
“As director of sport in UCD, he has transformed the facilities there,” he said, adding that he had supported numerous sportsmen and sportswomen through UCD and, besides his family, that this would be his “greatest legacy”.
Bertie Ahern revealed how his relationship with Mullins went back to the days when, as children, Brian’s wife Helen was part of their group in Drumcondra who used to play together.
“Then Brian came on the scene when he was 16,” said Mr Ahern, adding that “back then he was still at that height and his hands were like shovels and I asked, ‘where does this guy come from? I didn’t know there were guys like him in Clontarf’.”
Mr Ahern recalled the serious car crash in 1980 that almost ended Mullins’s career.
“I never thought I’d see him on a football pitch again – but he fought his way back in ’83,” the ex-Fianna Fáil leader said.
The match Dublin supporters would probably remember him most for, said Mr Ahern, was the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh that year.
“He was massive,” he added. “We went on to play Galway in the final – that was known as the 12 Apostles Final where three Dublin players (including Mullins) were sent off.”