Saturday 24 February 2018

'No farewell speech... the rules of the hut prevailed'

In the second part of our extracts from Liam Hayes' Heffo: A Brilliant Mind, Heffernan abdicates his throne leaving some players feeling he simply quit and New York plays host to the bitter Kerry-Dublin rival

Liam Hayes - 'Heffo: A Brilliant Mind'

Heff wanted to talk to his fellas first.

They were told that there was going to be a meeting with Heff after training. They left Parnell Park, and headed for O'Connell Street.

They were told to report to the Gresham Hotel. Heff hadn't been at training. The players were suspicious. They had heard the talk same as everyone else. None believed it.

Heff had never said a word to them all year long. But Heff was there, at the top of the meeting-room on the first floor of the grand hotel. There was ribbing and laughter about the rich formality. They also had football on their brains. The National League was back up and running, and Dublin had a journey to Tralee five days later.

It was to be Dublin's third meeting with Kerry in less than a month, as the two teams had lined out in the Wembley tournament in London two weeks after the All-Ireland final. Bosom buddies indeed.


The only man who knew what was in Kevin Heffernan's head was Jimmy Gray. Heff and Gray were closer than anybody else. The respect between the two men ran full steam ahead each way. Gray had been in London for a week's holidays. He'd asked Heff to hold off on any final decision until he came home. Heff respected the wish.

But, now, he was not going to wait a moment longer. There was no big farewell speech, no grandiose beginning to what he had come to say. The rules of the hut still prevailed, even in the fancy surroundings of a famous hotel, founded by a man who'd been abandoned as a baby in London. Thomas Gresham's old lodging house. Now the most famous hotel in Ireland. But the Dublin football team may as well have been back in their hut.

Heff spilled it out. He was going.

Actually he was gone! He was resigning with immediate effect.

No reason was given. And no explanation sought.

That's because everybody in the room, apart from Jimmy Gray, was in a state of shock, and couldn't think straight. Or get words out.


"No... Kevin..."

Those were the only words heard initially. Later there would be some tears. Paddy Cullen was emotional.

So too Jimmy Keaveney. Others were white in the face.

The only other words uttered belonged to David Hickey, standing at the back of the room, his hands in his pockets. Given the damned historic importance of the moment, several Dublin players would remember that Hickey's trousers were white.

"Is that it?" asked Hickey.

It wasn't a question at all.

Hickey was not impressed at being brought to the Gresham Hotel. Neither was he one bit impressed by Heff.

The management committee of the Dublin County Board were not happy either. They had awaited a response from Heff and his two selectors the day before, when they sat down for their meeting on the Monday evening.

They got to hear second hand that Heff was gone. Also, they'd heard from others that Tony Hanahoe was to be Heff 's successor. That rankled as well. The management committee decided who should be proposed as Dublin manager. Not a few lads in a hotel.

And the man proposed by the management committee then had to be presented to the full meeting of the county committee for acceptance.

The management committee's annoyance lasted three days.

They called a meeting on the Thursday night. The committee proposed Tony Hanahoe as Heff's replacement, and asked Donal Colfer and Lorcan Redmond to continue on, either side of their new 31-year-old captain and manager.

But, during games, it would be Colfer and Redmond side by side on the sideline. Hanahoe would still be on the field. A great many of Heff's players felt he had walked out on them. It was no resignation or retirement.


Heff had quit on them.

And they wanted to know why. And they refused to accept that Heff had some good or worthy personal reasons behind his sudden decision.

They believed they were more than a football team. They thought he was more than their football manager.

They had lived their lives together, on the field and in the dressing-room, and in the hut. In the hut, where nothing could ever be hidden from the next man.

Where was the total honesty? Loyalty? Decency as a friend? Love?

Kevin Heffernan had never said he loved any of them. Heff would have preferred to swallow his own tongue rather than profess his love for even one of them... Keaveney, Mullins, anybody. That was talk for sissies and cowboys in Heff 's book. But a great many of them loved him for being a hard, decent, brilliant taskmaster. Like a father.

And now he had gone and f**ked off on them all. Some were angry. Some felt deeply betrayed. A few accepted it was just Heff.

And those few understood that, to Heff, the game was not simply personal. It was as much business. More so business at times.

Even those few, however, had to wonder, had it all been just business?

It wasn't like he hadn't had time to tell them. The All-Ireland final was followed by days of living in each other's shoes and laughing off the whole, long pressurised year that had preceded the game. For days they had talked. Cried a little.

Hugged a lot.

There were days of usual celebrations.

And new, historic days, like the afternoon when a gang of them made their way to the Provost's House in Trinity College.

Dr FSL Lyons, a historian known to every young boy and girl in the country for his textbooks, had called for a piece of history to be made in his own very private neck of the woods.

The Provost, Dr Lyons, held a reception for some of the college's old boys. It was the first time the Provost had honoured any group of sportsmen who had not directly represented one of the clubs on campus.

Heff was there, as were Tony Hanahoe, Tommy Drumm and Jim Brogan. All of them had studied somewhere amongst the magnificent buildings. And Robbie Kelleher, a part-time lecturer in economics at Trinity College, was also asked along.

The Sam Maguire was also present, on display in College Park, and after the ceremony Dr Lyons, more of a squash man than a GAA man, to be honest, hosted a dinner for his guests.

Heff, all afternoon long and into the evening, had not breathed a word to the others about needing to go as Dublin manager.

Heff's needs.

He had put them ahead of everybody. But the worst part was that he did not tell them what was going on in his head.

They all had needs.

And they had all sacrificed their needs.

All it took was one look from Kevin Heffernan and, every time, a man's needs were instantly forgotten, reduced to dust.

In the days and weeks that made up the remainder of 1976, they all had to think, and re-think, of all he had done for them. And some more than others thought about all that they had taken from him.

The punishment on the field, and in the hut. Hounding them.

Humiliating them when he needed to do so.

Inciting them.

Pushing, prodding, poking, when he was not brutalising them with his demands and verdicts.

Hardly ever saying "well done".

Rarely a "thank you".

At the same time, they knew it wasn't about thank yous.

They hadn't done it for him.

Not him alone.

He had made them the team they were, and whether they liked it or not, he had made them do it for themselves.

He had made them win more, on the biggest stage of all, than he had ever won in his younger life as a Gaelic footballer.

He had made them reach their potential, and explore beyond.

That's why he goaded them.

Struck fear into their hearts, and crammed their heads with new demands every single blessed week.

They still wanted to know why.

Irish Independent

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