Intellect the weapon of choice for Heffernan in his many contests
On Gaelic Games:Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendour, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamour like champions, if we have the spittle for it, – Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt.
Deathly serious as he took football the late Kevin Heffernan was never quite in the position of Thomas More for whom failure to think a way out of his most pressing dilemma meant being beheaded.
But he would have felt the same concentration of the mind.
Yet for all the justified acknowledgement of his role as an innovator in football since his passing last Friday, the former Dublin manager also made one perhaps overlooked contribution to Gaelic games in the manner in which he prioritised intellect as his weapon of choice in the many contests throughout his career.
The GAA rightly proclaims the fire and passion of football and hurling but it should also celebrate those who do the games the honour of engaging cerebrally with their demands and challenges.
At the funeral yesterday there were appreciations from two men who followed in his steps as All-Ireland- winning managers from St Vincent’s, Tony Hanahoe and Pat Gilroy. Their reminiscences were warm and amusing.
Hanahoe spoke about Kevin Heffernan’s great passion for the club, which was evidenced by all of the teams at all levels and age grades that he took out in Vincent’s during a lifetime’s involvement.
Nonetheless, although with Dublin passion might have been the driving force – how could he have volunteered four decades of service to county teams without his heart being in it? – the mind was the means of engagement.
He once spoke about the thrill and satisfaction he felt as Ireland manager at breaking down the game of International Rules in 1986. After a first Test that went badly wrong, he worked out what had happened and what needed to change – and as importantly from his own perspective, how the game worked – before devising the plan that delivered a series victory.
Hanahoe yesterday illustrated what he called the ability “to look around the corners” by referring to the now legendary first championship match of 1974 when Dublin and Wexford met in a poor curtain-raiser to that season’s NFL final between Kerry and Roscommon.
Heffernan was steaming by half-time and thundered about how slow an opposing corner back was and how his lack of pace would be Dublin’s path to victory. Suddenly he stopped and reconsidered, instructing that the targeted defender be given a few handy balls to start with in case the opposing mentors took him off too early.