Tributes pour in for Heffernan, an all-time great who revolutionised Dublin football
GAELIC GAMES:Tributes poured as heavy as the January rain last night as one of the all-time greats, Kevin Heffernan, was remembered. The former Dublin footballer, hurler and manager died yesterday after a long battle with illness at the age of 83.
Winner of three All-Irelands as a manager as well as one as a player and captain, Heffernan will forever be recalled as the driving force behind the revival of the GAA in Dublin in the 1970s.
An outstanding player before he was ever a manager, Heffernan was chosen on both the team of the century and the team of the millennium at left half forward. With his club, St Vincent’s, Heffernan won 15 Dublin county football titles as well as six hurling crowns.
When he took over the Dublin team as manager in 1973, the county were without an All-Ireland in a decade and hadn’t been in a Leinster final since 1965.
He managed them to an All-Ireland in his first year and another in his third before stepping away from the job in 1976. He returned for a second stint in 1979 and won a further All-Ireland in 1983, as well as a fifth Leinster title.
He went on to manage the Ireland International Rules team in 1986 and in 2004 he received the freedom of Dublin city.
GAA president Liam O’Neill led the tributes last night to a giant of the association.
“Kevin Heffernan had an incalculable impact, not only on Gaelic games in the capital but nationally, helping as he did to forge one of the defining rivalries of the association while at the same time assisting in the reinvigoration of the GAA scene in Dublin.
“The Dubs, as we know them, came into being during his era as he restored success to his native county and a pride in the team that was built on the back of the selection of Dublin-born players. He was one of the most charismatic and popular figures the association has ever produced and was at the same time an immensely modest man.”
Former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy was a clubmate of Heffernan’s at St Vincent’s. “Kevin was a great man. For anybody growing up in Vincent’s, he had an influence on us all. He was a good friend of my father’s, so I would have known him all my life. He’s been a mentor and a part of all of our lives, so it’s very sad.
“He was the sort of man who if you ever went to him for advice was always willing to help you out with whatever you needed. But he was always very conscious to leave you to yourself as well, he never gave advice unless it was sought.
“That was the same in Vincent’s as it was with Dublin. He was a quiet man who never imposed himself but he was always there. I don’t think he ever turned anyone away.”
Heffernan’s reputation as a manager was built throughout the 1970s in an epic series of clashes with Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry.
“He was a wonderful man,” O’Dwyer said last night. “He put Dublin on the map in 1974. He came from nowhere with a very good side. He was an outstanding footballer and he was very positive in everything he did in life and that led him on to being a great manager.
“I didn’t get to know him when we faced each other as managers – it was always just a nod of the head and get on with the game. But I met him in later years at golf classics and that kind of thing and we had long discussions about the wonderful years we had together.
“Those games between Kerry and Dublin put the GAA on a new standing and got the young people of Dublin into the sport.”
Dublin County Board CEO John Costello also paid tribute. “Kevin Heffernan was ahead of his times as a player, a manager and an administrator. He revolutionised Gaelic football in both how players and teams prepared and operated and also in terms of the philosophy and psychology of our national games.
“For his unparalleled devotion and contribution to Gaelic football and hurling the Association in Dublin will be forever indebted to him. So, too, is Irish society for lifting the awareness of Gaelic games, putting it on a revered pedestal, particularly at a juncture in time when participation in Gaelic games in the capital was waning.”