Vinny and crew look for way to pay homage to Heffo
Against the Odds:Not even a biting polar gust could shake the gait of the burly figure skipping deftly up the steps of the Church of St Vincent De Paul on Griffith Avenue on Sunday at tea-time.
Trying not to look furtive as he entered the chapel, which wasn’t easy considering his bulk and Dublin Bus driver’s uniform, Vinny Fitzpatrick took a sharpened pencil from his inside pocket and reached for the condolence book.
In neat writing – the Christian Brothers had been good for something – Vinny left a brief note for the redeemer of Dublin football. It read: “Kevin, you brought the Jacks back. God bless and goodbye, from The Hill.”
Blessing himself, Vinny slipped out quickly and made the short walk down to Fairview to await the next 130 heading out of the city. The lads were gathering in Foley’s, and with fair reason.
Even though it had been a seismic afternoon of FA Cup shocks, interlaced with a rollicking card at Leopardstown, the pints this evening would be raised for a giant of sporting times past, not the present: Heffo.
Vinny had met Heffo only once, and that was on Clontarf golf course at an outing of Foley’s Soiled and Ancient Society, where he’d hooked wildly on to the wrong fairway and received an X-ray glare from the Great Man.
“Can we assume young fellah that you are not familiar with the word fore?” Heffo rebuked. A tongue-tied Vinny had gone scarlet, stuffed his errant Penfold into his pocket and hared back towards the proper fairway, not daring to look back.
Heffo didn’t suffer fools and Vinny, on that day, had been made to feel like one. Later, however, he joked to the lads that he had had a grand chat with Heffo who confided in him that Dublin were one midfielder short of an All-Ireland.
That Vinny had grown up in awe of Heffo was due, in no small part, to his old man, Finbarr Fitzpatrick, founder member of Dollymount Gaels and lifelong Dubs fanatic, who didn’t miss a Dubs Championship match between 1948 and 1995 – many summers were shorter than others.
Finbarr always spoke of Heffo as racegoers did of Arkle and cricket folk of Bradman: a class apart. As a gifted player, inspirational captain, canny tactician and no-nonsense man-manager, Heffo was deity in the eyes of Finbarr Fitzpatrick.
All of which made events in Raheny village in the spring of 1959 quite exceptional, even if Vinny, buried in a pram on pitchside, didn’t have as sharp a memory as others who were there.
It was the occasion of a challenge game on Valentine’s Day, for the Ardilaun Trophy between local rivals the Gaels and St Vincent’s – although rivals may have been stretching things, thought Vinny. After all, Vins have 25 senior county titles, the Gaels were junior champions once.
At that time, Vins were the reigning Dublin champions and their players, including such legends as Heffo, Snitchy Ferguson and Lar Foley, had backboned the Dublin team to All-Ireland glory the previous September.
The Manchester United of their era had been persuaded by Redser McHugh, the driving force behind the Gaels, to play a friendly against a neighbouring team not good enough to lace their boots.
The details of the gate dividend at The Oval was never revealed but Vinny heard the tale that Redser had negotiated a 50-50 split on the promise that none of the Gaels, who had a fiery reputation, would cause any trouble.
Apparently, a senior member of the Vins committee had warned Redser that the spectators were coming to see Vins play, not to see them fight.
The way Vinny’s Da told it, the crowds were so immense that day that special trains from Amiens Station to Raheny were laid on for the game, while extra buses were summoned from Clontarf garage.
There was only ever going to be one winner, Vins, who eased back late on to allow the Gaels a couple of late goals. But one Gael had a day to remember, the doughty left-corner back, Finbarr Fitzpatrick.
The following day the Irish Press reported: “Fitzpatrick clung to Kevin Heffernan like a limpet mine. Wherever Heffernan went, Fitzpatrick was his shadow. It was a surprise the wee warrior didn’t follow the Dublin giant into the home dressingroom at half-time.”
Against the odds, Finbarr Fitzpatrick, 35 and creaking with arthritis, had held Heffo scoreless. It was his finest hour in an undistinguished playing career but one he treasured until his last rasping breath a week before retirement as a clippie in 1998.
Vinny had been by his Da’s side on Hill 16 for 11 All-Ireland finals, five of which Dublin won. After each triumph, Finbarr had raised a large Power’s and saluted Heffo – “who made it all possible”.
The thought of those times past with his Pop warmed the cockles of Vinny’s heart as he arrived at Foley’s just before seven where things were in full spate.
Fran asked for suggestions to commemorate Heffo’s legacy. “A stamp,” piped up Brennie. “He has that already, anyway, stamps are two a penny these days,” retorted Fran.
Vinny looked down at his glass, observed the black liquid which he adored. He thought of Kevin Heffernan, his life and times, where he grew up, where he played, where he went to school, and where he lived.
He thought of Turlough Parade in Marino, Joey’s in Fairview, The Raheny Oval, Clontarf golf club, St Vincent’s on the Malahide Road, and of Croker. All those places defined Heffo.
It was time for a curve ball. He cleared his throat and harrumphed.
“Lads, the Dubs play most of their games at a place named after a man who had nothing to do with the founding of the GAA despite being the country’s most eminent figure at the time.
“He never played the great game, and never championed it in any of his speeches, as I recall.
“I say scrap Parnell Park and name it Heffernan Park, after a great Gael synonymous with the area for all his 83 years.”
With that, he placed his glass loudly on the bar counter.
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