Thursday 19 September 2019

The Dubs bite back: Heffo’s summer in the sun

The defeat to Kerry in 1975's All-Ireland final was a bitter blow for Kevin Heffernan's Dubs, so they set out for revenge the following yea

26 September 1976; The Dublin team, back row, left to right, Kevin Moran, Anton O'Toole, Seán Doherty, Jimmy Keaveney, Paddy Cullen, John McCarthy, Tommy Drumm, Bernard Brogan, Bobby Doyle, front row, left to right, Brian Mullins, Robbie Kelleher, Pat O'Neill, Tony Hanahoe, David Hickey, Gay O'Driscoll. All-Ireland Football Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE
26 September 1976; The Dublin team, back row, left to right, Kevin Moran, Anton O'Toole, Seán Doherty, Jimmy Keaveney, Paddy Cullen, John McCarthy, Tommy Drumm, Bernard Brogan, Bobby Doyle, front row, left to right, Brian Mullins, Robbie Kelleher, Pat O'Neill, Tony Hanahoe, David Hickey, Gay O'Driscoll. All-Ireland Football Final, Dublin v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Connolly Collection / SPORTSFILE

Rónán Mac Lochlainn

Ever since the All-Ireland final in 1955, Kevin Heffernan's hopes and dreams in his football life were intrinsically linked with the self-proclaimed Keepers of the Flame in Kerry.

The defeat to Kerry in the 1975 All-Ireland final only deepened his drive and there were encouraging signs that Dublin had bounced back well from the previous September when beating Derry in the National League final by 2-10 to 0-15.

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The pace with which Kerry had taken Dublin's defence apart needed to be addressed, especially in their half-back line, and Heffernan acted accordingly as he introduced the likes of Kevin Moran, Tommy Drumm and Pat O'Neill into the Dublin set-up.

Their quest for three provincial titles on the bounce began in Cusack Park, Mullingar, and Dublin proved far too strong for Longford as they cruised to a 5-16 to 0-7 victory.

Pat Gogarty and Anton O'Toole chipped in with a goal apiece but it was Jimmy Keaveney who grabbed the headlines with a telling return of 3-4.

A trip to O'Connor Park was next on the agenda and Dublin had little trouble in accounting for Laois with goals from Keaveney, Brian Mullins and Gogarty sealing a comfortable 3-12 to 0-11 triumph.

If was far from comfortable, however, in that year's Leinster final as Meath pushed Dublin all the way before falling by 2-8 to 1-9.

In contrast to their previous two matches, there was very little free-flowing football on show but Dublin were surely battle-hardened by the encounter as they prevailed thanks to goals from O'Toole and Tony Hanahoe.

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A similar theme ensued in Dublin's subsequent All-Ireland semi-final against a Galway side that needed a replay before seeing off Roscommon in the Connacht decider.

Dublin's newly aligned defensive structure passed this particular test with flying colours while at the opposite end of the field, Keaveney's value to the team remained undimmed as he accrued a match-winning 1-5.

The win secured Dublin, and Heffernan in particular, another crack at Kerry and on this occasion, there were to be no regrets as they reversed the result from the previous year, cruising to an emphatic 3-8 to 0-10 success.

The Kingdom arrived at Croke Park in rude health after demolishing Derry by 5-14 to 1-10 in their semi-final, but they provided no answer to the pace and power at which Dublin operated on the day.

Some from Kerry may suggest otherwise, but there was a feeling at the time that Dublin had an edge on their rivals in terms of the physical stakes and used that tactic to intimidate their opponents.

Certainly, there was no doubting Dublin's dominance on the day as goals from McCarthy, Keaveney and Mullins were pivotal in their seven-point success, as was the legendary fitness on which Heffernan placed such a strong emphasis.

The opening moments of the match are remembered today for the greatest near-miss in the history of All-Ireland finals when, after 45 seconds, Moran burst through the Kerry defence only to blaze the ball inches wide.

It mattered little, however, as Mullins and Bernard Brogan enjoyed a decisive edge at centrefield while newcomers O'Neill and Moran belied their relative inexperience.

Hanahoe was arguably Dublin's most effective player when he sacrificed his involvement in the match by drawing out Kerry's centre-back Tim Kennelly for a tour of the sidelines of Croke Park.

The plan worked a treat and for Heffernan, the dream had finally become a reality.

"I've waited 21 years for this victory," he remarked after the game.

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