'He gave everything he possibly could to whatever he was doing. To be one point ahead at the end'
Kevin Heffernan’s enduring legacy is a vibrant GAA in his own beloved city, writes SEAN MORAN,GAA correspondent
THE DEATH has taken place of Kevin Heffernan, one of the most important figures in the history of the GAA. The former Dublin All-Ireland winning player and manager passed away yesterday at the age of 83 after a long illness.
His legacy stretches beyond the simple re-emergence of Dublin as a force in GAA and the romance of the football rivalry with Kerry. The impact and status of Gaelic games in the city ever since has created an enthusiasm for both football and in recent years, hurling.
The popularity of the county footballers has also created a significant revenue stream for the GAA with vast crowds following the team even in those years when it wasn’t realistically challenging for highest honours. Would this have happened anyway without Heffernan?
It’s impossible to know and easier by far to make the connection between his achievements and the securing of the GAA’s presence in Dublin, which ensured that the association wouldn’t become a predominantly rural organisation.
It was said that from Dublin’s 1942 All-Ireland until 1995 – 53 years and six titles later – Heffernan’s influence drove all of the county’s All-Ireland successes as player, selector and manager.
He might have stepped back in 1977 when his senior lieutenant Tony Hanahoe took over as player-manager during a memorable and successful campaign but no one would dispute his influence.
Even in 1995, manager Pat O’Neill and his selectors Jim Brogan, Bobby Doyle and Fran Ryder were all graduates of the 1970s team. Congratulated on being the first Dublin management to win an All-Ireland without Heffernan’s influence, Brogan politely rebuffed the compliment: “You couldn’t say he didn’t have an influence.”
And last year’s success is equally hard to detach from that influence. Manager Pat Gilroy is the son of one of Heffernan’s oldest friends whereas veteran coach Mickey Whelan is another and significantly both are Vincent’s men.
Heffernan became a central figure in establishing Gaelic games in the capital both through his activities with the St Vincent’s club and the county side. For nearly half of the GAA’s history the games in Dublin were played by large numbers of migrants from the country, who came to the city for work.
The composition of county teams frequently reflected this. In 1948 St Vincent’s, having received a plethora of applications from country-born players moving to the city, decided to adopt a home-grown policy and to restrict membership to “persons born in Dublin”, “eligible for juvenile or minor grades if not born in Dublin” or “non-Dubliners resident in Marino, Fairview or Clontarf”.
St Vincent’s template
In 1949 the club won its first senior county title and four years later, contributed all but one of the Dublin team, which beat Cavan in the 1953 NFL final, as the county followed the Vincent’s template and went native.
Heffernan was in the catchment, reared in Marino by his father John, a Garda from Offaly, and mother May, from Kilkenny. His seismic impact as a manager and coach tends to obscure the fact that he’d have been a GAA legend for his playing career alone even if the 1970s had never happened.
A talented dual player, he was an exceptional footballer. As one of the rising generation of Dublin’s first wholly indigenous team, Heffernan obsessively talked and thought football with his team-mates.
He delivered on of the great tactical displays of the era when devising the role of deep-lying full forward and implementing it to memorably destructive effect on the legendary Meath full back Paddy “Hands” O’Brien in the 1955 Leinster final in which Dublin annihilated the then All-Ireland champions.