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The Blue Panther: A star who shunned celebrity


Anton O'Toole

Anton O'Toole

Anton O'Toole

So The Blue Panther has passed on. It's hard to credit that age and infirmity can catch up with even the greatest. And make no mistake, Anton O'Toole was a great footballer in a great team. He did his talking on the field and was low profile off it. In a team of well-known players and characters, Tooler was as good as any of them, but was never interested in the sideshows that fame can generate.

That Dublin team popularised, hypnotised and revolutionised football in the capital. It moved it up the social ladder and the rivalry with Kerry made heroes of players on both sides. It made the two teams better as well. Unfortunately, there has been nobody, with the honourable exception of Mayo, capable of going toe to toe with the present side to see how good they really are. Back then Kerry brought the best out of Dublin and The Blue Panther.

Anton was the essence of a player's player. He worked unselfishly for others but he never wanted to be the main event. The Panther scored valuable goals and points off his left foot, although modern coaches would probably consider him too one-sided. His running across Ger Power to set up Brian Mullins for a goal in the 1976 final is often replayed. It summed him up; do the donkey work and pass it on to a colleague in a better position.

In '83, Heffo rebranded him as a full forward, it worked and another All-Ireland followed. I remember it well as we drew with Dublin in the first round and lost after extra time in the replay. Then we had to look on as Dublin went the whole way. There is nothing worse than watching a team you think you should have beaten lifting Sam in September. Anton O'Toole, though, always got a free pass from everyone, he was ever popular.

Anton would get no marks for style in Olympic sports. He was tall, gangly and was not the smoothest of runners. His kicking method with rugby-type boots was also suspect. Yet, give him a ball and he was brilliantly effective. Points and goals came in abundance. With Synge Street he was the same, he gave his best all the time. He never for one second considered himself above anyone else, he was happy to get into the trenches no matter what jersey he pulled on.

When the game was over, it was over and Anton went back to being a private citizen. He rarely gave interviews and wasn't interested in being a celebrity, even though his play deserved it.

In later years I met him regularly at the races. His spectacles perched on the edge of his nose and binoculars around the neck as he worked on his own form guide. He was usually on his own and did not bother owners or trainers for tips as many do. He knew that I would have an inside line to Jim Bolger' horses but the most he would say was, "what do you think?"

One incident at the races summed him up. A punter interrupted us when we were chatting, to make some long-winded point about The Sunday Game. Eventually I introduced him to Anton and then he started to list out the Panther's achievements: All Irelands, Leagues, Leinster championships. Far from being impressed by this role of honour, Tooler just said, "so fucking what?"

The past was a foreign country, he was content to go around quietly and unannounced. He had moved on. In fact, he was much happier talking about the present Dubs than his own comrades.

On Wednesday, Gerry McEntee and I went to see him but he had already started on the long sleep. Either that, or he had decided that he couldn't take any more of thick Meath men giving him hassle. Whichever way it was, the calm had come after a long, hard battle.

There will be no fuss about him above either. That would not be his style. Anton O'Toole, all round good guy and an example of how fame can be carried easily. May you get the peaceful sleep you deserve.

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