Wednesday 18 September 2019

The last splash: How a mixture of youth and Heffo's remaining heroes secured Dublin's only 80s Sam

It was a tough and it wasn't pretty at times, but the Boys in Blue were heroic as they managed to break the lean spell and claim the All-Ireland title in 1983

Dublin's Brian Mullins, left, and team-mate Ciarán Duff celebrate with supporters after the final whistle in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Semi-Final Replay against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Dublin's Brian Mullins, left, and team-mate Ciarán Duff celebrate with supporters after the final whistle in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Semi-Final Replay against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh

Niall Scully

It was a tale of the unexpected. Dublin 1983. The glory days of the 1970s had passed. Most of Heffo's Heroes had retired. The Heff was building again. With new names. But with the same dream. To bring Sam back to the city.

Young John O'Leary in the goal. Fitting into Paddy Cullen's gloves. Gerry Hargan flourishing at full-back.

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Tommy Conroy showing the elegance of the Panther. The Blue Panther himself (Anton O'Toole) back in the fold, leading by example. Teen idol, Joe McNally. And the most inspirational story of all - Brian Mullins, back in the Dublin jersey after a serious car accident.

Meath had proven stubborn opponents in Dublin's opening match in Leinster. The first game finished in a draw. It was still level after normal time in the replay. The Dubs prevailed in extra-time.

Offaly were well tipped to beat Dublin in the Leinster final. Offaly were seeking their fourth successive Leinster title. They were the All-Ireland champions. They had stopped Kerry's five-in-a-row. Derby day!

But Dublin won their first Leinster crown since 1979. Yet Cork came within seconds of victory in the All-Ireland semi-final. Barney Rock's goal brought it to a replay.

Much debate centred on the venue for the replay. Eventually, it was decided to hold it in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Heffo's Army were on the march south.

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Dublin stayed in the Blarney Hotel. All the players had steak. Except for John O'Leary. He ordered a trout. It didn't agree with him. He was terribly sick. Heff arrived up to the room with a brandy and 7UP.

The sun shone the next day. Dublin won by 11 points (4-15 to 2-10). A masterclass by the Lee.


The weather wasn't as nice in September. A gale howled around Croker and a storm also blew up in the tunnel at half-time.

Antrim referee, John Gough, had a busy day. It was tense. Tempers boiled over. Before the interval, Dublin had two players sent off, Brian Mullins and Ray Hazley. Galway had Tomás Tierney dismissed.

Early in the second half, Kieran Duff was also sent off. And so the Twelve Apostles were born.

Dublin had played with the wind in the first half that blew into the Hill. They led at the break by 1-5 to 0-2. Barney Rock got the goal.

It was a spectacular effort. The Galway goalkeeper, Pádraig Coyne, kicked out the ball. The wind played all kinds of tricks with it. It went straight to Barney who promptly lobbed it over the 'keeper and into the net.

From the chaos of the tunnel, the Dublin players found themselves in a calm dressing-room at half-time. Kevin Heffernan made sure of that.

His team were up against it. Galway had the extra man. And the wind. His message was clear. Don't waste possession. Keep the passes tidy. Work like you have never worked before. Attack on the counter. And if you don't score, make sure the ball goes wide and dead. Don't give Galway the ball.

Joe McNally was told to stay up front. He was the target man. Heff knew he had the ability to hold the play up and wait for support.

Dublin quickly went eight points up in the second half. But then their troubles deepened with Dully's dismissal. The Dubs had to cover acres. Pat Canavan played the game of his life.

They got there in the end. By two points. 1-10 to 1-8. The man from Whitehall, Tommy Drumm, climbed the steps of the Hogan.

Both teams gathered in Jurys of Ballsbridge for the traditional lunch the following day. The angry mood of the game still lingered. The atmosphere was sombre.

It was customary for a player from each team to sing a song. Joe McNally got up and sang The Fields of Athenry. And suddenly, the day was brighter.

Sadly, like the great man himself, two of the '83 Dubs have passed on: Mick Holden and Ciarán Maher.

Kevin Heffernan achieved so much for Dublin. And perhaps '83 was his greatest deed of all.

One thing is sure - he couldn't have been prouder of his Heffo's Heroes on that famous afternoon.

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