Saturday 17 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'O'Toole was a major contributor to a Dubs legacy that endures to this day'

Powerful: Dublin legend Anton O'Toole - he knew his role and he executed it to perfection
Powerful: Dublin legend Anton O'Toole - he knew his role and he executed it to perfection
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A sporting legacy is usually difficult to quantify, but no doubts exist about the impact the Dublin team of the 1970s had on football and indeed the GAA in general.

At a time when there were fears about the GAA's viability in the capital, Kevin Heffernan and his fellow-dreamers saw things differently and went about making them happen. 'Heffo' believed and so did his players, among them Anton O'Toole, who has died aged 68.

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O'Toole was a major figure on the mould-breaking team of 1974, a man who epitomised a new Dublin and a fresh approach to football.

He played championship football for Dublin between 1974 and 1984, a period in which the original group won three All-Ireland titles before a new generation zoomed to the top in 1983.

He played a massive role in all the achievements, first as the swashbuckling ball-carrier and later as the leader of a younger group of forwards.

A member of the famous Synge Street club, early indications that he was a talent less ordinary emerged in 1972 when selected on a Dublin U-21 team, managed by Eugene McGee, who himself died just two weeks ago. However, it wasn't until 1974 and the massing of 'Heffo's Army' into a huge Dublin movement that O'Toole and his colleagues became known nationally. He scored in all seven games in the great adventure that took Dublin to All-Ireland glory for the first time since 1963.

As Dublin's star continued to rise, O'Toole climbed with it, picking up three successive All Star awards in 1975-76-77.

Colleague Robbie Kelleher described O'Toole as the genuine article, a man who knew his role and executed it to perfection.

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"When any of us defenders got the ball, the aim was to get it up to Jimmy Keaveney and the other finishers as quickly as possible. You'd look up and you'd nearly always see Anton ready to take a pass and drive forward.

"He was a very powerful man in full flight, but there was more to him than that.

"He scored a lot, too. Two of our best wins were against Kerry in the 1976 final and the 1977 semi-final and he was brilliant in both.

"He scored four points in '77. There were no man-of-the-match awards then, but if there were, he'd probably have deserved them in both games," said Kelleher.

However, with Mick O'Dwyer's super Kerry team finally getting the better of Dublin in 1978 and Offaly, under McGee, closing in too, a changing of the guard was on the way.

Not for O'Toole, whom Heffo came to regard as an increasingly important figure in the impending transition.

It reached glorious fruition in 1983 when, despite being reduced to 12 men in the second half, they beat Galway in the All-Ireland final.

O'Toole was very much the elder statesman in attack, mining as much as possible from limited possession while playing against a gale-force wind.

"With Galway having two extra men, there was an even greater responsibility on us to make the most of what came our way and give our defence a breather," he said afterwards.

John O'Leary, who came into the Dublin team as a 19-year-old in 1980, recalls being in awe of O'Toole, Brian Mullins and Tommy Drumm, idols to his generation.

"I was 13 when they won the '74 All-Ireland so it was something else to be playing with them. All great players and great leaders. Anton's sidestep was something else. Everyone knew it was coming but they still couldn't do anything about it. And away from football he was a real gentleman," said O'Leary.

O'Toole won the respect of opposition everywhere, too.

Galway's Johnny Hughes, who played against him for a decade, including the 1974 and 1983 All-Ireland finals, said he was one of the most honest players he ever came across.

"A mighty player and as genuine as you'd ever meet. I always liked playing against Anton and the Dublin lads. You could take their heads off and hand them to them and they wouldn't complain. And they'd expect the same from you. Anton was some player in that great Dublin team. A lovely fella off the pitch too, very friendly and unassuming," said Hughes.

Read more: 'Tooler' the heart of Dublin in rare oul' times

Read more: 'We lost one of the best of us today' - Dublin legend Paddy Cullen pays homage to the late Anton O'Toole

Read more: 'And a single tear rolled down that lovely, generous face' - Roy Curtis remembers his great friend Anton O'Toole

Read more: Dublin legend Anton O'Toole passes away, aged 68

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