Sunday 8 December 2019

When the legend passed, Jim Gavin and Dublin paid Heffo the ultimate tribute

The Dublin legend passed away in 2013... and the Boys in Blue paid their respects by bringing Sam Maguire back to the capital

22 September 2013; Dublin fans with a flag in honour of the late Kevin Heffernan on Hill 16 before the GAA Football All-Ireland Championship Finals, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
22 September 2013; Dublin fans with a flag in honour of the late Kevin Heffernan on Hill 16 before the GAA Football All-Ireland Championship Finals, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Niall Scully

HEFFO died in 2013. Dublin and Kerry matches played a central part in his life. Heffo and Micko, wonders of the age.

Dublin and Kerry formed the songbook of the seventies. But, for Kevin Heffernan, it had stretched much further back than that.

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Many say that the 1955 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry was a pebble he found great difficulty in removing from his shoe.

His good pal Mickey Whelan was a leading pilot on Pat Gilroy's crew for the famous All-Ireland victory in 2011.

And two years later, there was a new man in town as Dublin met Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final — Jim Gavin.

A pilot in his own right. Who had earned his stripes as a manager with successful Dublin U21 sides.

Jim stepped quietly into the cockpit. And, as was his habit, preparation was everything.

He'd go round watching the club matches. Standing in the shadows. There was one winter's Sunday morning at Balgriffin, the home of Innisfails, when he was wrapped up like an Eskimo.

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The climate was much warmer for the Dublin-Kerry semi of 2013. September's first day. There was a carnival atmosphere on the Clonliffe Road. And in the lanes and alleyways approaching the ground. The banter bounced off the pavement.

There's just something about Dublin and Kerry. Something special. Something that stirs the senses. Like the poster on the Hill many years before: 'Dublin for Sam. Kerry for the holidays.'

Over 81,000 were there to see the 2013 semi-final. Those in the Lower Hogan got a bird's eye view of the Kerry substitutes warming up along the sideline.

David Bowie's Star Man was among them. With a stature that suggested he could hold the whole world in his hands.

It recalled what Peter Jones said once on the old BBC Radio 2. Peter was the doyen of broadcasters. The best in the business.

One day he was at Portman Road, the home of Ipswich Town. And he uttered these words to his listeners: "I am sitting here in the front row of the Director's Box. Mick Mills, the captain of England, is taking a throw-in. And if I could reach out, I could almost tap him on the shoulder."

Shane Supple, who was in the Dublin squad on that day in 2013, played for Ipswich.

Dublin would have needed two goalkeepers as Kerry began in a sprint. Scoring three goals down at the Hill end within 20 minutes.

Gooch, at centre half-forward, was conducting the orchestra. Causing havoc. The Kerry forwards were so fleet-footed. So slick and so sure.

Kerry boss Éamonn Fitzmaurice looked on. Struggling to take it all in. Jim Gavin the same.

Yet as both teams ran down the Hogan tunnel at half-time, Kerry, despite their electric start, still led by only two points.

And when the seagulls swept in for the last of the 'hang' sandwiches, Dublin had won by seven points. And that despite Kerry being ahead, coming to the last bend.

It was the music man, Kevin McManamon who, once again, had struck the golden note. His goal seeing the ground erupt. Everybody on their feet except one man. Jim Gavin. Sitting there on the sideline. Taking a sip from his bottle of water. Like a fella waiting on the bus for Clondalkin.

The Dublin manager showing all the composure of his colleague, Sully, landing in the Hudson. And then, three weeks later, the Liffey turned blue. And the Mayo News was all red and green.

The men of 1950 and '51. The Flying Doctor. Seán Flanagan. The King of Belmullet, Willie Joe. The excitement rippled from Castlebar to O'Connell Street. Everybody was up for the match.

There was a bustle of bodies outside the Gresham. The street traders were busy.

Dublin had their own Flying Doctor, Jack McCaffrey. Son of the cultured Noel. And there were other family links, like John McCarthy's son, James, and the brother of Peadar Andrews, Paddy of St Brigid's.

Many years before, a young man was making his way along the Navan Road. In the colours of Brigid's neighbours, St Oliver Plunkett/Eoghan Ruadh. It was Saturday afternoon. Plunketts were out in Wesmanstown playing Garda in Division 2 of the Dublin Adult Football League.

bernard brogan 2013 v mayo goal 2.jpg
22 September 2013; Dublin's Bernard Brogan scores his side's second goal past Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final, Dublin v Mayo, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

This genial young corner-forward was clipping them over from every blade of grass. He looked the business. He was a Brogan. Bernard Brogan. One to watch.

Over the years, he might have heard 'Ah, you'll never be as good as the Da. Or the brother'. Against Mayo in the All-Ireland final of 2013, Bernard scored 2-3. Dublin won by a point.  With the passing of time that young Plunkett's boy became a giant of Dublin football.

The second joint top-scorer for the Dubs with two points was Ireland's number one, Stephen Cluxton.

And the full-time whistle made the clear announcement that the pilot had landed.

As smoothly as Sully. On the banks of the Royal Canal.

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