Stars of past and present pay respects to Dublin’s Anton O’Toole

Altar adorned with Sam Maguire at funeral of four-time All-Ireland winner in Kimmage

The coffin of Dublin GAA star Anton O’Toole was hauled to church on the shoulders of five separate football teams, the mark of a man whose sporting greatness had seeped through generations.

The 68-year-old, known as “The Blue Panther”, was carried by members of the famed Dublin team of 1974; the Dublin team of the early 1980s; those he played club football with at Synge Street; the Templeogue Synge Street side he managed to a 2008 championship; and the current Dublin senior football team.

He notched up four All-Ireland titles, eight Leinster championships and three All Stars in his career.

"We are going to be here for the next five or six hours celebrating Anton's life," Fr Joe Kennedy said at the outset of the heavily attended funeral Mass at the Church of St Paul of the Cross at Mount Argus in Kimmage.


Fr Kennedy had set the tone from the start – a religious service yes, but probably more a celebration of GAA family and one of its proudest sons.

As well as his beloved jerseys of club and county the altar was – in a first for this central Dublin church – adorned with the Sam Maguire trophy.

In a brief address, his brother Peter noted the distances people had travelled to be there and that in fact many of them also felt they had lost a brother.

Fr Seán O’Leary, who was close to O’Toole, said he had been keen to prepare himself for death during his long illness.

“His worry was not for his suffering, his worry was for the suffering he was causing his family and his close friends,” he said, and noted the rallying of the GAA “family” during his illness.

“About two weeks ago he said to me I don’t think I’ll make the [All-Ireland] final this year. And I said I know Anto but at least you know the Dubs will be there.”

Nuala Leacy, his sister, said while the medical staff at Beaumont Hospital joked about having to design a ticketing system for her brother's visitors, it eventually became necessary, such was his ability to draw the crowds.

Outside, as mourners ambled to the church some could be heard retelling tales of Dublin's glory days. Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Ireland international Niall Quinn, former arts minister and Kerry footballer Jimmy Deenihan, and retired Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty helped swell the aisles. Mary Black was among a number of singers performing during the service.

Fr Kennedy had earlier told those gathered that many of the normal hymns would be discarded in favour of Dublin songs – a musical backdrop more fitting for a county hero.

True to his word he led a verse of the blue anthem Heffo’s Army and O’Toole’s former team-mates delivered a united rendition of Raglan Road. Finally, and in tune with the unavoidable poignancy of passing, his coffin was carried one more time to the sound of Dublin in the Rare Old Times.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times