Dublin’s Anton O’Toole is chased by Kerry’s Jimmy Deenihan during the 1979 All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park
But, then, Father Joe Kennedy invited Mary Black to lead Tooler's 1970s team-mates, the titans alongside whom he transformed the city's sporting landscape – their fraternal bond unbreakable even by death – in the most soulful chorus of Dublin in the Rare Oul' Times.
And in that moment, unspeakably powerful, the congregation spellbound, sobbing, smiling, singing, bursting with love for the dear friend who had so enriched our word, Anton was alive, immortal, filling every Mount Argus pew.
I spent this last week wondering how it would have been had my old musketeer fallen a year later as Covid-19 moved beyond the established bandwidths of cruelty.
The celebration of his life, the wellspring of comfort that gushed from his requiem mass, the stories told long into the night, none of this could have unspooled.
As a final monstrous indignity, a final pitiless larceny, Covid has stolen so many farewells.
A funeral is so often a lifeboat for those shipwrecked in grief's deepest immensities.
It is nine months since my mother, a bottomless reservoir of love, passed from this world.
If her requiem mass, graveside prayers and toasts into the night didn't entirely decommission our pain, it diluted it mightily.
It was a hugely cathartic experience.
Family and friends, simply by their presence, removed the thorns stabbing at our essence.
All the sweetly shared recollections, the hugs and handshakes, the oxygen of physical contact, the photographs circulated as we raised a glass to a lady who bled kindness, these things formed a shield against the worst of the hour.
The sense of community was cleansing and healing.
For families at their lowest ebb, the fellowship of being that is the essence of an Irish funeral, is superbly effective at re-threading the tattered standard of their lives.
In her novel Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald writes wisely: “It is important to attend funerals…because unless you do that, the loved one dies for you again and again.”
As so many lives are smashed by coronavirus storms, the callous grace note of a proper funeral denied feels like the last word in sadistic depravity.
The heartbreak of a lonesome graveyard, the tiniest handful of mourners, faces masked, unable to cling to one another, as their soulmate or sibling or parent is lowered into the darkness, is unimaginable.
A wake, a gathering where song and drink and storytelling mix, the central figure resting in the nearby coffin, has long been an essential element of the grieving process.
Without these purging metaphorical and literal group-hugs, the bereaved remain marooned in emotional tundra, lost in the half-light.
We are a tactile, sociable people: It is why social distancing, though it exists to save lives, can feel of itself like a death sentence, one that thieves away, say, the wonder and heart-soar of a grandmother hugging her grandchild.
It is why there is a deep underlying truth in the popular saying that a problem shared is a problem halved.
Right now, denied that safe harbour of empathy, we are enduring a frigid November of the soul.
It was so different on that May afternoon a year ago as the city came out in communion with Anton O'Toole, Heffo's Blue Panther.
The sustaining images of his sendoff are locked in the memory.
An endless snake of humanity, many clad in the city's sky blue uniform or the stripes of Templeogue Synge Street, trailing behind Anton's siblings up the steep churchyard gradient to the doors of the house of prayer.
Teammates: From left, Fran Ryder, Bobby Doyle, Kevin Moran and Paddy Cullen shoulder the remains of Anton O’Toole for his funeral Mass. Photo: Mark Condren
The coffin passed across the decades, from ageing, slightly stooped 1970s warriors with whom Anton soldiered, to the athletic, muscular, fresh-faced class of 2019, young men who infused his final years with so much warmth.
Later, as the lights declined, Paddy Cullen, Paddy Reilly, Gay O'Driscoll, Fran Ryder, David Hickey, Sean Doherty, Bernard Brogan, Kevin Moran, Tommy Drumm, Tony Hanahoe, Pat O'Neill, Kieran Duff, John Caffrey and so many other of those with whom Anton co-collaborated in the making of history drank pints and remembered.
A year on and Croke Park, their youthful theatre of self-expression, is reimagined as a Covid-19 testing centre.
As life walks along the edge of a volcano, it is an entirely natural inclination feel enfeebled and hopeless.
But as I think of my mother and, a year on from the day we lost him, Anton O'Toole, the challenge is to locate a ray of light.
One that shines a glint of authentic hope, declaring this pathogen which has bulldozed great ruptures in our world will one day, by vaccine or antiviral or the intellect of the finest medical minds, be tamed.
On that happy morning, we will remember all those who have fallen under its malign spell.
And, as a confederacy of brothers and sisters, humanity will sail again into a safe, comforting harbour.