Sunday 17 November 2019

'Heffo's attitude lives on through Vins youngsters'

Mullins insists club success down to mentality instilled by legendary boss

St Vincent's captain Ger Brennan delivers the pre-match team prior to the AIB club All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Ballinderry
St Vincent's captain Ger Brennan delivers the pre-match team prior to the AIB club All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Ballinderry
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

One of St Vincent's most famous sons sits beneath a photo of their finest moment.

Brian Mullins settles into a chair and above him is an image of the Dublin 1953 National League-winning team.

It takes pride of place in the St Vincent's clubhouse bar, and why not? On the day the Dubs saw off Cavan, the Marino club supplied all 14 outfield players as well as the jerseys.

Among the grainy faces is that of Kevin Heffernan. A more recent image adorns the opposite wall, where the legend's face greets allcomers.

Downstairs, the clack of boots on tiles is a constant, familiar din in the background as a variety of underage teams are engendered with whatever it is that has made them the most successful football outfit in Dublin and the second most decorated hurling club.

Outside, the lights from Vincent's pitches still burn brightly, even as the clock ticks past 9.0 in the evening.

In the distance, the lights of Parnell Park, the home of Dublin GAA, are also visible from the clubhouse window.

There could hardly be a more fitting setting for Mullins to muse over Heffernan's legacy ahead of another All-Ireland club final appearance.

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"I don't think I could accurately comment on Vincent's way of playing football without talking about Kevin Heffernan," Mullins says.

Monday will be their fifth appearance in an All-Ireland club final and there have been envious glances towards Marino from other parts of Dublin down through the years.

As one onlooker commented: "Vincent's are like Fianna Fail, you're better off with them than against them". However, Mullins explains how it hasn't all be rosy.

It's 20 years now since they won a minor title. There was also a whole generation of players who passed through the club in the '90s and 2000s who failed to bring home a senior championship until the breakthrough in 2007. That win ended a 23-year wait, a famine for a club by their own standards

"I think there would be some evidence within the GAA that when clubs go about a strategic move from their original grounds that it does deflect from the games in the club," Mullins said of the move from their original home in Raheny to Marino.

"If you spoke to officers of clubs that have bought land and moved their operation, I think that has a negative impact. We moved down here from Raheny in 1984/85.

"And what happens when you develop new pitches and clubrooms and there is a lot of money involved is that the concentration of the club goes in a different way. Maybe that is part of what happened."

They are well settled in Marino now and the focus is back on achieving success with their teams. As director of football at the club, Mullins explains that underage mentors are charged with producing rounded footballers for adult teams ahead of delivering silverware.

"That is hard to get across at times. You are asking people and they are volunteering their time. They are right in some respects, they want to inspire and motivate their players to win.

"It's not necessarily win at all costs, but you want them to win and be the best they can be. Sometimes winning is not the most important thing.

"It's about trying to make the players understand that they are still learning and they might not win this year, but they will win at some time if they keep practising, keep working."

That steadfastness to the cause has been on show in the run to Monday's decider. In the Dublin final, Vincent's played their best passage of football after Diarmuid Connolly was dismissed. At various other stages they have found themselves in the mire, but have always found a way to dig it out in a manner Heffernan would have been proud of.

"You often hear the word 'attitude' being used to describe people, be it an individual like Rory McIlroy or a team. People will say they brought attitude to the sport. How do you explain the word attitude?

"It's something intangible. It's what you witness, what you see, the way players get into a game, they show energy, they show momentum, they show drive that their opponents don't show.

"You describe that as attitude. Kevin had a very, very simple mentoring philosophy which was based around the idea that you don't get anything easy in life. If you want to achieve something it's about how much effort you put in and that's across the board in both effort and performance."

It's not a new philosophy for the club. Back in 1975, they refused to accept the trophy or the medals after an agreeable date for the county final clash with UCD couldn't be found.

The players agreed to leave the cup where it was, insisting they'd rather face their fierce rivals than take a handout. Eventually, they accepted the nomination from the county board to enter the Leinster championship before going on to secure All-Ireland honours, but the county honours remain unclaimed.

"I would always regard it as a tremendous achievement for the club to get to a club All-Ireland.

"This is our fifth final from the first one in 1973, which is 40 years ago, and I'm sure there are many clubs around the country who'd love to be able to say they were in one, never mind five.


"We would feel particularly encouraged by the fact that there's a large bunch within the panel of 36 that are the product of the last 10 years of work at juvenile level."

And that brings us back to Heffernan, who Mullins insists would have been highly influential in the development of their latest group.

"He was always present, very close to the time he passed away. His attitude and his legacy was well established and could be attested to in books and the media. The name Kevin Heffernan was synonymous with performance. The youngsters on the panel we hope have inherited that.

"That's my job, that's Tommy Conroy's job, that's the underage mentors' job, to infuse them with that attitude, that mentality, that legacy of Kevin."

And it's in that way, Mullins says, that 'Heffo' will be present in Croke Park on Monday.

"I would say he is still around. Physically he's not. But his gravitas, his memory, his legacy is very much around all the time. And his picture is up there on the wall just to remind us."

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