Brian Mullins would be sitting just across the table, upright and broad-shouldered, a pot of coffee brewing as some parley or other was stirring. At this table, in this cafe.
Brian Talty could not tell you the number of times he sat here with Mullins, talking about sport and life and getting old. Not so long ago, the conversation turned to ailments and medication – each of the small group clustered around the table taking turns to unfurl their catalogue of afflictions; tablets to keep hearts beating, pills to ease puffy ankles, ointments for creaky bones, you name it.
“Then the Mull jumps in, ‘I’ve no pains’,” recalls Talty. “Whereas some of us would hop in the car just to go around the corner, he was always active, always on the bike. When we heard he wasn’t well, it was a total shock.”
Brian Mullins will be buried today.
And while Talty might not know how many times they sat together in this cafe in Raheny, he knows exactly how often they chatted about the 1983 All-Ireland final here. Never.
During the first half of that tinderbox decider, Talty and Mullins contested a high ball around the middle of the field. As the ball broke loose, and with Talty straining to stop Mullins winning possession, the Dublin midfielder swung back his right foreman and caught his Galway counterpart square on the jaw. Talty collapsed to the ground. Mullins received his marching orders. As the teams went down the tunnel at half-time, tempers flared again. Talty never reappeared for the second half.
“I think it was more as a result from the belts on the pitch than the skirmish in the tunnel, I had got another belt during the first half. I can’t really remember going off at half-time. I wanted to go back out for the second half but the doc said no, and that was at a time when people maybe weren’t as aware of concussion.”
Dublin went on to win the decider, 1-10 to 1-8, infamously finishing the game with just 12 players.
Talty would never get to play in another All-Ireland final, and it would be the last of four that Mullins would win. The next morning, with the air still raw and heavy from the rancorous encounter at Croke Park, a two-man summit was called for the car park of The Burlington Hotel. Dublin’s Mick Holden and Galway’s Stephen Kinneavy stood guard at the entrance, preventing anybody from joining Talty and Mullins.
“It was a case of either sort it out then or it wouldn’t ever be sorted,” recalls Talty. “We both said what we had to, basically he thought I was wrong, I thought he was wrong; ‘You f**king ruined my All-Ireland.’ ‘No, you ruined the only one I’ve ever been in, you already have f**king three All-Irelands.’ When we were finished it was never mentioned between us again.
“We sat here in this cafe many times, but we never talked about it. Maybe there would have been an odd jibe or something, but the actual incident, we never brought it up again. We parked it in that car park, so to speak.”
Talty first got to know Mullins in Limerick during their days studying to become PE teachers, where they played together for Thomond College. Talty’s wife also grew up close to Mullins in Clontarf.
When Talty had a job interview for St David’s CBS in Artane, Mullins picked him up and drove the Tuam man to the school. In 1980 he attended Talty’s wedding, but while the Galway man was on his honeymoon, Mullins suffered serious injuries in a car crash.
“I went to visit him when we came home and to be honest, I didn’t think he’d get out of that bed, he was that bad,” recalls Talty. But he did, and three years later the pair faced each other in an All-Ireland final.
“I suppose that is one of the disappointing things about 1983, because you know how hard he had worked to get back. But while it is part of the story between us, there is an awful lot more to the story than just that game,” says Talty.
Talty has lived in Dublin now for over four decades, during which time his relationship with Mullins continued to grow. They met regularly to talk about everything and nothing. Last week, just before Mullins passed away, Talty went to the hospice to see him for the last time.
“I’m glad we went in, but it was difficult because you always thought he was made of granite. When sickness gets hold of you, nobody is indestructible.”
When he thinks of Mullins, Talty sees the layers.
“He was a hugely intelligent guy, and he always knew what he wanted. He was driven. And as a footballer, people remember him as being big and strong, but he was also an incredibly skilful player.
“He was maybe portrayed as being a serious character too, but there would always be a bit of craic with him as well, a dry wit. The Mull would say to you, ‘look, I’m gruff enough but there’s a soft spot in every big fella.’ But he didn’t suffer fools.”
Several years back, Talty got a call from a friend. The man’s son had come up just a few points short of getting the third level course he wanted at UCD, but the lad was a decent footballer and so his father wondered could Talty ask Mullins (who at the time was Director of Sport in UCD) if anything could be done to, well, facilitate a solution.
“So, I called the Mull. He paused for a second. ‘My advice to you now Brian is to go back and tell him to do the Leaving Cert again and this time work harder.’”
Brian Mullins will be buried in Balgriffin cemetery today. Brian Talty will be there.
“Of course I’ll miss him. It’s sad to think that you can’t pick up the phone and ask, ‘do you want to go for a coffee?’ And that’s nothing to do with football really, it’s much more than that.”