Monday 19 February 2018

Heffo's 12 Apostles Rock 'n' roll way to glory

In the first of our two-part serialisation of Liam Hayes' 'Heffo: A Brilliant Mind,' we remember Dubs' dirty dozen of 1983, how Heffernan turned Mick Lyons into his hitman and how a seven-year-old helped to rediscover Jimmy Keaveney

Kevin Heffernan watches the 1983 All-Ireland final against Galway from the sidelines
Kevin Heffernan watches the 1983 All-Ireland final against Galway from the sidelines

John O'Leary looked down the field. There seemed to be twice as many maroon jerseys as blue jerseys. In front of him, as he waited to take his kick-out, were 11 Dublin footballers.

Looking for them was one problem. Finding them on a rainy, soggy day in Croke Park, with the wind having the final say in the direction of every second ball, seemed all but impossible. Getting the ball down the field, however, was his great difficulty. The same wind was close to a full-blooded gale.

And it was blowing straight into Croke Park's Railway End, and into John O'Leary's face.

It was six minutes into the second half of the All-Ireland final.

Dublin had led 1-5 to 0-2 at half-time. But, amazingly, Galway had staggered at the start of the second half. Just like Dublin had at the very start of the game. It was one thing having a wind at a team's back, but a wind like this confounded wind? It was capable of fooling anybody, in any colour of jersey, at any time.

A Barney Rock free had increased Dublin's lead, and then Joe McNally got another point.

There were eight points in it. Heff had told them at half-time to hold on to the ball, and not to give it up to Galway or the wind. He wanted no risky passes.

Three times he told them. "Nothing risky out there... you hear me?"

If there was one message Kevin Heffernan wanted to get into the heads of his team, it was that.

There had been a craziness to the first half. There had been scrapping and wild tackling in the atrocious, far-fetched conditions. Then the digging started, off the ball to begin with. Tempers had been let loose, and were on the rampage long before half-time. The referee, John Gough, had never known a game like it.

No referee had ever been prepared for a game like the 1983 All-Ireland football final. Gough started booking and sending off people. It was mayhem.

In the tunnel at half-time something else had happened.

John O'Leary had been first back to the dressing-room. Dublin had been defending the Canal End goal and when the half-time whistle blew, O'Leary had run off the field at a decent pace. He was the first man back in the room.

Nobody else arrived for a long time. It felt like a minute.

It may have been only half that long, but O'Leary heard shouting and a whole clatter of yelling as the rest of the team came in through the doorway. Someone had hit Brian Talty.

The Galway midfielder had gone down in the first half and Brian Mullins had been accused of putting him down.

Mullins was sent off.

Someone in a blue jersey put Talty down in the tunnel as well. O'Leary was told that, and he heard other bits and pieces of what had happened in the tunnel. Seemed there were a few punches thrown.

Heff had immediately come in and quietened everyone down. He wanted lads to sit down, and clear their heads. He wanted them to listen. He had to roar at the top of his voice to get control of the room, but when Heff had everyone's attention he spelled it out. Slowly.

He needed calmness.

Dublin were a man down. The referee had sent off Mullins after 27 minutes. John Gough's patience was up. Three minutes later he sent off Ray Hazley and Tomás Tierney, who were involved in one of a dozen or so scuffles that had presented themselves in the first half an hour.

Galway had the extra man, and Heff was telling everyone they needed to funnel back into their own half of the field every time Galway got possession in the second half.

Everyone needed to work harder than they had ever worked in their lives on a football field. They had 35 minutes to win an All-Ireland.

To do that, they had to hold the ball. No risky passes. He didn't want any ball lost. He didn't want any ball turned over.

Every ball had to be used, the full length of the field, and every ball had to be a score or it had to go wide. Either way, Dublin could regroup.

Everyone could get back behind the ball, everyone except Joe McNally.

Heff wanted him to stay up front. He needed someone staying up there. And McNally, with the size of him, was the best man on the team at holding on to a ball and protecting it from defenders and all types of nosy parkers.

"Everyone else... BACK

"... YOU HEAR ME?

"BACK... !"

And he told them to counter-attack.

When Dublin got the ball, Heff wanted the ball worked forward fast. He wanted the ball up to Joe McNally. Fast, fast, fast. And he wanted men to support him. He kept telling the fellas that Galway had only one extra man. There weren't four or five extra Galway men out there.

"What's one man?" he asked.

"One man won't win this for them!" insisted Heff.

Five minutes into the second half, between Barney Rock's free-kick and the Joe McNally point that left Dublin eight points clear, Ciaran Duff would become the third Dublin footballer to be tossed out of the All-Ireland final by John Gough.

His man, Pat O'Neill, had fallen on the ground. Duff foolishly tipped the side of O'Neill's head with the point of his boot. The referee needed to try, somehow, to control the rest of the game.

Duff was off as well.

Dublin were two men down.

John O'Leary was standing over his goal-kick.

He knew it was going to be the longest half an hour he had ever spent on a football field. In the next four minutes he would take another three goal-kicks, and that's how it would be for the remainder of the All-Ireland final.

Galway were panicking out the field. They were lashing the ball.

HOPELESS

Their full-forward line had no chance of winning any ball that was sent in. Each time, wild and hopeless kicks towards the Railway End goalmouth had scampered over John O'Leary's end-line.

Galway needed a goal to begin with. Heff knew that might cool down their heads. A goal was his biggest fear. There were only 25 minutes left.

Heff watched Galway score three points in the next six minutes. Galway also got their goal.

A cross from Brian O'Donnell dribbled across the Dublin small square and Stephen Joyce was fastest off the mark to plant it in the net. On Heff 's watch there were 19 minutes left in the game.

There were only three points in it.

Dublin 1-8, Galway 1-5.

Barry Brennan missed a good chance of a point for Galway. Their third and last substitute, John Tobin, who was a veteran of Galway's defeat by Dublin in 1974, was also wide when he should have scored.

Galway were back wasting chances again.

And they were still kicking the ball wildly, and too long. When more points did not follow Stephen Joyce's goal, the Galway midfielders and defenders had officially lost the plot.

They were playing like a team that was down to its last two or three minutes. But there were 12 or 13 minutes still to go on Heff 's watch.

Michael Brennan kicked a point for Galway. Seamus McHugh kicked one.

Barry Brennan hit over a free.

Win or lose, Heff was proud of them.

All of them. They were all working harder than he could ever have demanded any group of footballers to work.

All of them, including Joe McNally, all alone at the other end of the field. McNally, who'd had his 19th birthday four days earlier. Four months earlier, nobody even knew he was a footballer.

He was a goalkeeper. He looked too fat to be a footballer, and certainly one look at him and most football managers would have concluded that he was not made to be a county man. Certainly not out the field.

In fact, Joe McNally was the Dublin minor goalkeeper the first time Kevin Heffernan laid eyes on him.

McNally played for the county minors in 1980 and '81, and even as a minor he managed to fill a good deal of the space between his two posts. Heff gave the boy his chance on March 15 when Dublin played Armagh in the National League. John O'Leary was out injured. McNally did okay.

He didn't make any mistakes. Before and after training in Parnell Park, however, Heff kept seeing his sub 'keeper do some brilliant things whenever he was playing around with the ball. And Heff finally decided to find out something about the extra large boy.

Next time he picked McNally, three months later, he named him at full-forward on the team to play Meath in the first round of the championship. It was a brazen decision by Heff. And, at the time, it seemed far more brazen than brilliant.

Joe McNally did less than okay. He found the Meath full-back Mick Lyons impossible, and his only major-sized contribution to the whole afternoon was when he belted the ball across the Meath goalmouth in the middle of the first half and had his shot bounce off the chest of Lyons' corner-back, Phil Smith.

The ball inched over the goal-line. It was a draw match.

Heff dropped McNally for the replay that Dublin won by two points after 30 minutes of extra-time.

He didn't pick him for the Leinster semi-final against Louth either. But against Offaly in the Leinster final, Heff wanted to have another look.

And, whenever Kevin Heffernan wanted to have a proper look at a footballer, then he didn't beat around the bush.

McNally was in against the Offaly full-back line, the tightest and meanest in the country. And that full-back line stood between McNally and the Offaly 'keeper Martin Furlong, a grizzled relic from a generation past who usually put more fear into forwards than all three men in his own full-back line put together.

If McNally did well, great. If Joe McNally did not do well, Heff would most likely have left him back sitting on the substitutes' bench, having to patiently wait for John O'Leary to one day retire.

Against Offaly, he scored a goal and two points.

Everybody who was wondering what on earth Kevin Heffernan had been thinking, quickly got on the same wavelength as the Dublin manager that afternoon in Croke Park in July.

Dublin would score two more precious points before the end of the 1983 All-Ireland final. Joe McNally would play a part in both.

From nowhere, Heff had found Dublin a new full-back, and at the other end of the field a target man who surprised everybody.

Dublin had also come from nowhere for the second time in Kevin Heffernan's life and amazed the whole country.

VACANT

For a third time, Heff had also dug into the past.

In 1963 Heff had had a word with Des Ferguson about coming back and helping him out at full-forward. In 1974 he had the selfsame conversation with Jimmy Keaveney.

The No 14 shirt was once again vacant. In '83 the same chat over the same jersey was re-enacted with Anton O'Toole before he had time to tell Heff that he might be retiring with the rest of the '70s gang.

Dublin 1-10, Galway 1-8.

From zero to All-Ireland champions.

Barney Rock scored from six free-kicks, in true Jimmy Keaveney style. Rock also scored the most sensational, uncanny goal seen in Croke Park in five years.

It was styled more on Mikey Sheehy's wizardry than Keaveney's, and Sheehy's remarkable goal scored against Paddy Cullen in the '78 final.

This time around, 12 minutes into the game, Galway 'keeper Padraig Coyne was off his line. He had come out to the edge of his large square to take a kick-out and give it his all into the wind, but in the wretched underfoot conditions Coyne had failed to get his boot through the ball.

It went 35 yards. Straight into the hands of Barney Rock.

Rock didn't hesitate.

One look, and he unleashed a lob of sheer perfection that dipped under the Galway crossbar just before a horrified Coyne arrived back on his line.

No doubt, that act of genius saved Dublin. Rock's genius and Heff 's brilliance had combined to make Dublin All-Ireland champs again.

Part 2 on Monday

Heffo’s first farewell & the dirtiest Kerry-Dublin game of all time

Irish Independent

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