On the morning after Sam five pay their respects to Heffo
Vinny and his ex-Army pals visit the tomb of the original supremo
Bernard Brogan, whose two goals with his mitts did most to win the day for Dublin, parades the Sam Maguire Cup in front of Hill 16 watched by Ger Brennan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
After Dublin’s latest annexing of Sam, Vinny Fitzpatrick and his pals turned to pay their respects to the huge flag of Kevin Heffernan held aloft on Hill 16. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times
The pilgrimage began in mid-afternoon on a September day of veiled heat. It was a route Vinny Fitzpatrick knew like the back of his hairy hand, along the Clontarf Road, past Blackbanks, Kilbarrack and then right at Sutton Cross, where the road climbed.
There were five travellers, all men, all middle-aged, and all slightly shook after the previous day’s journey into night which ended in a blur of stout, Sam and smiles.
Vinny, who had fallen off the surfboard after 14 pints of Uncle Arthur’s’ finest, didn’t trust himself to drive so Charlie St John Vernon was behind the wheel of his station wagon.
Fran, Macker and Brennie completed the quintet, who were setting out to fulfil a drink-fuelled promise made the night before when the All-Ireland final celebrations were in full swing in Foley’s.
The group were a lot less vocal than they had been 12 hours earlier when the celebrations came to a greasy end outside The Capri and the six-mile journey towards Howth went by in silence.
It allowed Vinny time to reflect on a roller-coaster ride at Croker. It hadn’t been a great game, at times it was barely a good one, but the goal of any team in an All-Ireland final is to get the job done, which Dublin did. If their football was more plain porter than champagne sparkle for some, so be it.
Red and green
Arriving on Hill 16 at a quarter to three, Vinny was astonished to see a patchwork quilt of red and green speckling the citadel of the Dubs. He had nothing against Mayo folk but to see thousands of their number on the Dubs’ prized patch was akin to Everton fans invading The Kop.
What made Vinny’s blood boil was so many decent skin Dubs, lads who trekked to icy Aughrim in January for the O’Byrne Cup, couldn’t get a ticket for the Hill. It was adding insult to injury.
The game passed by in a blur, memorable mostly for the “Hands of Brogan”, who scored two fine goals with his mitts, and for the heroic defiance in the final minutes when Dublin, with only 13 fit players on the park, dug deeper than the Liffey basin to protect their lead.
When it was over, when the Mayo hordes had scarpered before the presentation, Vinny and the lads had linked arms and turned their back on the pitch, like the Lech Poznan supporters. They paid homage to the man portrayed on a giant flag at the rear of the Hill, a man whose spirit and vision forged the template for Dublin’s rebirth as a football force in the 1970s – Kevin Heffernan.
On Vinny’s cue, they roared: “Oh, the Jacks are back, the Jacks are back, let the Railway End go barmy, for Hill 16 has never seen, the likes of Heffo’s Army.”
It was a cleansing moment so good they did it again, this time with plenty of back-up.
Vinny worshipped Heffo, who had been referred in the match programme as the Dubs’ Da Vinci, which Vinny felt was fitting.
Heffernan was comparable to the Tuscan titan in his genius, of which was written “the scope and depths of his interest were without precedent, and his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote”.
Heffo was both “superhuman” and “mysterious” and Vinny had held him in the highest esteem, from the great jutting jaw, to the slightly off-centre nose, shock of white hair, and sneaky fag.