Game to Remember: 1983 All-Ireland football semi-final replay
Dublin looked a beaten docket coming to the end of the 1983 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final against Cork at Croke Park.
Time was almost up. Dublin trailed by three points. Desperate measures were needed.
The Dubs were attacking the Hill 16 end. Left corner-back Ray Hazley found himself in front of the Nally Stand.
He sent the ball across. Barney Rock got on it and he stuck it in the net. Dublin were on their way to Cork for the replay.
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It was the first All-Ireland Football semi-final to be played outside Croke Park since 1941 when Kerry beat Dublin in a semi-final replay in Tralee
"Kevin (Heffernan) came in the dressing-room after the match and said ‘they want us to go to Cork.’ And we're going,'" reveals John Caffrey.
"There was no argument or debate about it. And that set the positive tone for the replay.
"Nobody in Dublin objected. And the fans loved going on the road to follow the team. They were very much of the opinion that not every Dublin match had to be played in Croke Park.
"And even today, that’s still the same. The Dublin supporters look forward to going to the country. They make a real day of it.
"Back in ’83, we were so relieved to have got the draw against Cork. We were very lucky that day. There’s no doubt about that," added John.
Dublin had begun the campaign with a win over Meath. It went to a replay. Dublin won it in extra-time.
They then overcame Louth before defeating the All-Ireland champions, Offaly, in the Leinster final.
The previous September, Eugene McGee’s team had foiled Kerry of the five-in-a-row.
In ’83, Cork had shocked Kerry in the Munster final with a late goal, winning the Munster title for the first time in ten years.
"We travelled down to Cork the night before the replay in Páirc Uí Chaoimh," recalls John. "We stayed in Blarney.
"John O’Leary was my room-mate. He wasn’t that long on the team after Paddy Cullen’s great career.
"We had fish for our meal that evening and John got terrible food-poisoning. He was in a bad way. It was touch and go whether he’d be able to play or not.
"And the amazing thing is that we had no sub goalkeeper. Imagine that happening today.
"Back then, Mick Kennedy could play in goal if the need arose, but he was a defender. And a brilliant defender at that. Mick gave so many good years to Dublin, and to his club St Margaret’s. He was one of the best markers in Gaelic football.
"Thankfully, John was ok to play. And it’s a day that I will never forget. It turned into a great occasion.
It was a glorious summer’s day, and the sun was blazing. Thousands of Dubs had made the journey, and everybody was in such good form.
“The atmosphere was something special. There were stories of Dublin fans coming across the river in boats to the stadium.
“We went out to give one of our best performances. It was a brilliant all-round team display.
“Brian Mullins was absolutely outstanding. It was one of his greatest performances in a Dublin jersey.
“And it was such a tribute to him that he came back to play at that level following his serious car crash. It was one of the great comebacks in sport.
“Anton O’Toole, God rest him, had a superb match. And so did Joe McNally. Kieran Duff was tremendous. But it was just one of those days when everybody played well.
“The ground was buzzing with the noise coming from the crowd. It was just one of those days that we will never forget. Everything just clicked for us that day. And it was a great day to be a Dub. I know our supporters certainly enjoyed it. And many of them made a weekend out of it.”
Kevin Heffernan told Peter O'Hehir of the Irish Press: "I was one of the most memorable sporting occasions of all time. That weekend will hold a special significance for anyone who experienced it.
"Everything was perfect for the game. The organisation and the arrangements were excellent. There was a great spirit among the crowd. So many of our supporters had made the pilgrimage. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.
"And, from a Dublin point of view, the performance on the field was terrific. It was the highlight of the year."
After the game in Cork city centre, Bob Hyland was in his room in the Metropole Hotel ready to dictate his report back to a copy-taker at the HQ of the Irish Independent in Middle Abbey Street.
Bob had seen more Dublin matches than most, and this was up there with the best of them.
Bob’s words told that a first-half penalty from Brian Mullins saw Dublin ahead at the break, 1-7 to 0-5.
Dave Barry’s penalty brought Cork back into it. Kieran Duff hit Dublin’s second goal. Barry scored Cork’s second goal.
Barney Rock sent in Dublin’s third goal, and Joe McNally clinched it with the fourth, rolling the ball to the net, soccer style, like Ian Rush of his beloved Liverpool.
Dublin would go on to beat Galway in the final. With the Twelve Apostles.
Heffo pulled a trick from his hat that summer, using John Caffrey as a ‘third midfielder’.
For the final, John had been named in the full-forward line with the Blue Panther and Joe McNally. The half-forward line consisted of Barney Rock, Tommy Conroy and Kieran Duff.
Mullins and Jim Ronayne were at midfield. Pat Canavan, Tommy Drumm and PJ Buckley formed the half-back line, while the full-back line read Mick Holden, Gerry Hargan and Ray Hazley.
John Kearns and Kieran Maher came on as subs. Sadly, Kieran, Mick Holden and Anton O’Toole have all passed on from that All-Ireland winning team, Dublin’s first success since 1977.
The foul weather of wind and rain helped nobody in that All-Ireland final of 1983. At half-time in the dressing-room, Dublin’s biggest concern was how they were going to cope with the gale that blew into the Hill 16 end.
Dublin went in six points up but two men down. Heffo’s instruction was to keep possession at all costs, especially going forward. The big fear was to allow Galway build a counter-attack.
Dublin’s players were told to finish their moves. Even if it meant landing the ball out beside Con Houlihan on the Canal terrace!
Dublin needed the True Grit of John Wayne. And Heffo’s Heroes made it - coming though the wind and the rain – 1-10 to 1-8.
Growing up, John, not for a second, imagined the march of Heffo’s Army. “My father ran a shop in Lower Dorset Street. He came from Cavan, and every Sunday we’d be in Croke Park.
“In those days, the Dublin footballers weren’t having any success. And they had nobody following them. We used to go to Croke Park shouting for Cavan.
“We grew up loving sport. And we’d spend our summers outside. We’d play anything – football, hurling, soccer, cricket, tennis, any game. That’s what children did then.
“You made your own fun, out with your pals. And there wouldn’t have been too many televisions around in those days.”
John achieved Sigerson success with UCD. And he won the Dublin Senior Football Championship with his beloved Na Fianna in 1979.
His brother, Pillar, managed the Dublin team that knocked hard on the door. “We used to go as a family to cheer on the Dubs when Pillar was in charge. We had some very enjoyable days in Croke Park.”
John is still putting in the time on the Mobhi Road. Like he did with so many teams at St Declan’s in Cabra. But he has now hung up the chalk after 40 years. John holds all his former pupils in high esteem. And his ex-team-mates too.
And he’ll never forget that special group who, in Heffo’s magic boots, walked across the waters of the Lee on that sunny, summer’s day all those years ago.