'His legacy redefined aspirations for players and teams for decades to come'
“It mightn’t work out like that,” he’d say, “but that’s where you start”. That stuck in my mind.
My experience of team talks up until then was that you were talked to rather than talked with. His discussions were never formatted. He might ask a sub to start or he might begin with a defender and come back to people as well. It was like a classroom situation and kept everyone on their toes.
If you were going to say something, though, it had to be succinct and accurate.
Only very occasionally would he let someone ramble on and then he’d take them down. I’ve one recollection of him saying, “that’s the greatest load of waffle I’ve ever heard” – which was sobering for the individual but also for everybody else!
There could be differences of opinion over incidents in matches. I can remember him saying, “well that’s not my recollection” and there might be a row. So he’d say, “we’ll have a look at that on Saturday”.
That was when the wide-angle films were brought out, which was also innovative and far harder to do without today’s technology. “Is that not you?” he’d say to whoever it was.
But on match days very little was said, just a few words of encouragement. People were to get on with it, basically.
I knew him from a variety of perspectives and he was a very private person and kept a lot of his thought processes to himself apart from what he felt players needed individually or as a group. Was he ruthless with people as individuals? Only if he considered it in the collective interest.
It’s important to remember when the team functioned as a unit, it ran like a well-oiled machine and you had an easy job. When that broke down that’s when it became laboured for the individual and ultimately the team. I believe that’s what happened in the ’78 final. Things were going very well as a unit until individuals began to take liberties.
If we’d won that final I think a number of players would have called a halt but instead everyone stayed around in the hope of winning another one. But Kerry were younger and hungrier.
He didn’t set out to make football popular in Dublin; he set out to win. Popularity followed but that wasn’t by design. Yet his legacy redefined aspirations for players and teams for decades to come.
I wouldn’t have said that we were close friends but we had a good relationship. I was away for most of the 1980s but always came back when Dublin reached the All-Ireland final (1983-85) and he invited me to sit in the dug-out so we remained in touch.