'We lost one of the best of us today' - Dublin legend Paddy Cullen pays homage to the late Anton O'Toole
PADDY Cullen takes a call in the Algarve, "broken-hearted" at the death this morning of his old friend and Dublin GAA icon, Anton O'Toole.
"You just never thought it was going to be him," says the legendary Dublin goalkeeper. "Even though it was coming, it's still a serious shock to everyone."
Few teams cultivate a bond as lasting and strong the Dublin team of the '70s, the trailblazers from an era of unprecedented popularity in gaelic games.
"We won and lost and suffered and went on again and suffered again," Cullen says. "But you know that going through it all made you a better person.
"But Anton was Anton. He was a genteel. You knew when you met him that he was different."
At first, they didn't know him at all.
"Anton O'Toole just arrived out to Parnell Park one day a bit like Kevin Moran did," Cullen recalls.
"Heffernan just dug up these fellas who appeared out of nowhere. Everyone was saying 'who's he?'
"But straight away you knew this kid was gifted."
As it happened, he outlasted Cullen and most of the others from that team to win an All-Ireland in 1983 at full-forward although according to Cullen, he wore his immense talent and achievement lightly.
"He never had a bad word to say about anyone," he says. "You know the way you'd lose the head and call a fella gobshite or whatever?! Well Anton would never say anything like that to anyone about anybody."
"That's just the way he was. And he was such a clean footballer as well. He was never involved in anything controversial or anything like that. He was just one of those people you meet in your life that you knew was special."
They spoke recently.
"He was on our committee that organises a trip away every year playing golf. We have one coming up that he was hoping to make it to in September," Cullen says sadly.
"But a few years ago we were coming back again and he said: 'what about changing the hotel?'
"And I said: 'why would we want to change the hotel? We have it all set up?
"They know us, we know them. We have our transport organised - we have a good man doing that.
"And Anton said...'because the coffee is lousy.'
"I said: 'what?! You want to change the hotel because the coffee is lousy?!'
"And that's the only thing I ever heard him say negative about anything.
"We solidered a lot together even though there was an age gap.
"But," Cullen adds, "it never felt like there was an age gap with Anton.
"We lost one of the best of us today."