Galway man remembers the day supremo rallied his '12 apostles'


In Kevin Heffernan’s personal Roll of Honour, featuring his brilliant achievements as a player and coach, it would be no more than a footnote that he got a three-month suspension following the highly controversial 1983 All-Ireland final against Galway. Played in a sulphurous atmosphere on a day of high winds and rain, with 12-man Dublin scoring a two-point win over 14-man Galway, the GAA imposed bans ranging from one to 12 months, while the winners’ manager Heffernan was suspended for “unauthorised incursions onto the pitch during the match”.

After the game, Galway had claimed Dublin’s early goal by Barney Rock should have been disallowed by referee John Gough (Antrim) because Kevin Heffernan was interfering with play as he crossed the pitch from the Cusack Stand side – with playing going on around him – to attend to the injured Joe McNally, lying on the field on the Hogan Stand side of the Railway End goal.

It all added to the controversy but that evening, as the presenter of The Sunday Game on RTÉ, I was told not to mention anything controversial. On the contrary, I was advised to concentrate on the positive side of the day: Dublin’s heroism in winning an All-Ireland final with “the 12 apostles” as they were described in some newspapers in the weeks afterwards.

It was the first time since The Sunday Game started in the summer of 1979 that the winning team were not asked to appear “live” on the programme as studio guests in Donnybrook. All involved in the making of the programme knew the Dublin players were unlikely to stay together in the hours after the game, unlike the “country” teams who would normally be taken straight from Croke Park to RTÉ and then to their hotel for the winners’ banquet.

A group of Dublin players agreed to be interviewed in a makeshift studio at Croke Park, and those interviewed by me included Ciarán Duff, full of good humour despite having been sent off and set to receive a 12-month ban. Those interviews were played into the programme that night and there was studio discussion on the incidents which marred the game, but I have no memory of Kevin Heffernan’s name being mentioned. Undoubtedly, the Dubs’ supremo would have preferred it that way.

Heffo’s army

The 1983 final holds no special place in GAA history, unlike the epic clashes between Heffernan’s great Dublin team of the mid and late 1970s and Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry. Sadly for my native county and perhaps an omen for 1983, it was Galway who missed out in the ’74 final. It was the explosive arrival of “Heffo’s Army” – an iconic GAA image – bringing spectacular colour to Croke Park.

Twelve years later, Galway’s Liam Sammon, who had his penalty in the 1974 final saved by Paddy Cullen, was invited by Kevin Heffernan to be his number two as coach, when the Dublin man was named manager of the Ireland team travelling to Australia for an International Rules series. It was one of the most thrilling three-Test battles of all, with Ireland settling the issue in the third Test. Heffernan and Sammon enjoyed a wonderful relationship.

As far back as 1958, a powerful Dublin team captained by Kevin Heffernan and boasting a second spiritual leader in Ollie Freaney, were crowned All-Ireland champions after beating Derry in the final, and Galway in the semi-final by one point. In ’57 and ’58 the seven-in-a-row Galway club champions Tuam Stars and the equally invincible St Vincent’s of Dublin – probably the two best club teams at the time – played a series of challenge games. In late July 1957, they played each other at Croke Park on a Sunday evening and the attendance was 12,000. For the return in Tuam on a Church holiday Thursday in August, 15,000 turned up to see Ollie Freaney and Kevin Heffernan vs Seán Purcell and Frank Stockwell.

On August 21st, 1977, I had the honour of doing the RTÉ Radio commentary on Dublin vs Kerry, often said to be the most exciting football match ever played, and I was on radio duty for Dublin’s win over Armagh in the final on September 25th. That year, the Dublin leader on and off the field, taking over from Heffernan, was Tony Hanahoe. Two hours after the final, I found myself walking alongside Tony; he was carrying the Sam Maguire to his car, parked beside mine. When it came to saying goodbye, he gently placed “Sam” down on the footpath while we had a 20-minute chat, about football and life.

I hope Kevin Heffernan would’ve liked that.

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