Friday 20 September 2019

Gaelic football's greatest rivalry is born - The 1955 final that shaped Kevin Heffernan's future

Decades of the Dubs - The 50s/60s: Both Dublin and Kerry needed replays to get through their semi-finals, but the epic All-Ireland final that followed saw the beginning of one of the great rivalries in Gaelic games

Dublin v Kerry GAA Final 1955 (Part of Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection)
Dublin v Kerry GAA Final 1955 (Part of Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection)

Rónán Mac Lochlainn

By 1955, Dublin were finally showing signs of progression, with their team back-boned by their National League-winning panel of two years previously, which contained 14 St Vincent's players along with goalkeeper Tony O'Grady, who played for the Air Corps.

The Leinster final of '55 pitted Dublin against their near neighbours Meath, a team that were provincial and All-Ireland champions at the time.

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Dublin arrived at the final in decent shape, having recorded contrasting wins over Carlow and Offaly, but delivered their most complete performance of the year, showing scant respect for the Royals in their commanding 5-12 to 0-7 victory.

The Dubs had already beaten Meath in that year's National League football final, 2-12 to 1-3, but few expected a repeat performance, given Dublin's tendency of flattering to deceive come championship time.

Amazingly, given Dublin's near monopoly on Leinster titles in the present time, this was the county's first provincial success since 1942, when they beat Carlow by 0-8 to 0-6.

The final itself saw the free-flowing nature of Dublin's football prove too much for Meath and they took their lead from the revolutionary manner in which Kevin Heffernan performed the full-forward role.

In many ways this team were the pioneers for what was to follow in terms of Dublin football and its dynamic style of play.

Heffernan decided that there was little point in him contesting aerial ball against the finest full-back in the country at the time, Paddy 'Hands' O'Brien, so opted to play in a roving role that eventually drove the Skryne man to distraction.

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O'Brien was so humiliated by the chastening experience that with Meath having used their full complement of substitutes, he simply walked off the pitch before the final whistle.

This came after a hugely influential display from the majestic 'Heffo', with his two goals in the opening half setting the tone for Dublin's dominance.

Their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final proved far trickier as Dublin encountered a Mayo team that included such luminaries as Seán Flanagan, the Flying Doc (Pádraig Carney) and Tom Langan.

The conditions were appalling and the quality suffered as a result, with only a late free from Nicky Maher rescuing a 0-7 to 1-4 draw for Dublin.

Croker 1955.JPG
A141(A) Croke Park. Source N/A. N.D. (Independent Aerial Photographic Collection) These aerial views of Ireland from the Morgan Collection were taken during the mid-1950's, comprising medium and low altitude black-and-white birds-eye views of places and events, many of which were commissioned by clients. In 1957, a number were published weekly in the Irish Independent in a series called, 'Views from the Air'. The photographer was Alexander 'Monkey' Campbell Morgan. (Part of the NPA/Independent Newspapers Collection)

Dublin edged the replay by 1-8 to 1-7, setting up one a landmark All-Ireland SFC final as they faced Kerry in front of a then record attendance of 87,102 at Croke Park.

The Kingdom had also needed a replay to get past Cavan in their semi-final and while there was increasing confidence within the capital that Kerry could be slayed, a number of factors undermined their challenge on the day.

Team captain Denis Mahony was diagnosed with an appendicitis shortly after the second Mayo match and although togging out alongside the equally inconvenienced Jim McGuinness (knee), their injuries and the absence of both Norman Allen and Marcus Wilson proved too much of a disability.


Kerry's defence stifled the Dublin attack, limiting the number of goal chances created, and when Dublin managed to break through the green and gold line, they lacked that clinical touch as Seán Boyle and Cyril Freaney spurned presentable opportunities.

The Kingdom were far more economical with the trusty boot of Tadhg Lyne edging his team to a 0-5 to 0-3 interval lead.

Matters deteriorated for Dublin upon the restart as they fell further behind and, by eschewing point chances as the half progressed, allowed their opponents to build a healthy buffer.

That lead was required as Dublin finally caught a break as Ollie Freaney's free kick found its way to the Kerry net via a plethora of defenders, but some concerted late pressure from the Dubs proved in vain as Kerry held on heroically thanks to courageous defensive play from Jerome O'Shea, Seán Murphy, John Cronin and 'Micksie' Palmer.

The 0-12 to 1-6 loss was keenly felt by all of Dublin, with Heffernan's pain particularly acute and it proved the driving force and motivation for his subsequent managerial career.

It was a seminal All-Ireland, a clash between the masters of the traditional catch-and-kick and the emerging free-flowing style pioneered by Dublin.

"No defeat as a manager ever hit me like 1955," said Kevin Heffernan in an interview back in 2004.

"That was the first time there. It was Kerry. I had great hopes and so on and so on. That formed a large part of what I became as a person."

A defining rivalry was born.

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