Dublin GAA has a rich history. The sport brings the city together, it envelopes us all, the young and the old. It’s a ritualistic institution. Dubs supporters fill Hill 16 with a sea of blue, bunting and flags fly high as messages of support, and the roar of the crowd in Croker is spine tingling. Dublin players are heroes, legends even, have been for some time now. Their legacy is a great one. Even now, the Dublin team of today are compared to Heffo’s Army, the great team of the 70’s.
Recently, the Dubs Supporters Facebook page took a vote to see what players in what positions from the Dublin 1977 and 2015 teams would be chosen to form a super team of sorts. Although the majority of positions went to the stellar 2015 team, 6 positions went to members of Heffo’s Army.
One of these men was number 13, Bobby Doyle. Although Doyle is rarely in the limelight his talent is evidently still remembered. This week, as the Dubs prepare to take on Monaghan in round 3 of the Allianz League on Saturday, memories of his time with the Dubs come flooding back to Bobby, and he told us all about them…
When did you start to play GAA with Dublin?
“Well, I used to watch all the games when I was younger. My father was very interested in Dublin football and even though he never played, he used to bring us to all the games in Parnell Park and Croke Park. He didn’t have the money to pay us all in so he’d throw 5 or 6 of us (Bobby has 7 siblings) over the turnstiles! I got onto the school team in Scoil Mhuire in Marino so I suppose you could say the seeds were sewn very early in my career that I wanted to be a success. St. Vincent’s then became my club and I enjoyed it there immensely. As a teenager then I played GAA and soccer, but decided to stick with GAA as I got older. I never played minor or under 21 with Dublin, I started at senior level, in 1972.”
Can you tell me what it was like to be managed by Kevin Heffernan?
“Kevin Heffernan came along in 1974 and everything changed. There was no such thing as real training prior to that, our training under Heffernan brought with it a sea change in Gaelic football. Kevin was a ruthless type of a man. He picked a team that he thought would do well. He wanted big players, and I was actually relatively small in the big scheme of the Dublin team, but on a whole the team was full of big and fit men. And if you were fit and big then you were a danger, and if you had football ability then you were something else. And that’s what happened, and we went on to win the Leinster final that year!
There’s no doubting in my mind that there were better technical players in Dublin at that time but he knew the dedication that he required, and he knew the players that would give that dedication. All the players on that 70’s squad wanted to play for Dublin. You had to be good; you had to be dedicated, you were afraid to say if you were injured in case you’d be dropped! He left a huge legacy.”
What was life like off the pitch?
“In the beginning it didn’t make much of a difference, I was still an electrician in the ESB, but as time went on I started being recognised when I went out and my picture started appearing in the paper regularly. The public were generally very nice and recognised me, but it was probably because of my long hair! Because I was playing with the Dubs I got offered a job with Murphy’s brewery and stayed with them until 1982, when I went to work with Dennis Mahony’s, and I’m still there today.”
How has playing with the Dubs changed your life?
“Playing with the Dubs totally changed my life. I went from a regular fella getting the bus into work, to people recognising me and asking me to go to events. I got to open ceremonies and bars and present medals around the country. You became a little bit famous in a small way, which was very nice.”
What is your most memorable moment?
“The 1976 all Ireland final meant a lot to me because we beat Kerry, I also had been dropped for the first time in my life for the final in 1975. The 1977 final also stands out because I scored two goals and two points which didn’t regularly happen in these matches! I won an all-star in 1977 too”
Why do you think the memory of Heffo’s army still lives on?
“I suppose our team is remembered because there were great characters and personalities on it, like Jimmy Keavney and Tony Hanahoe, and Gaelic football wasn’t a very stylish game to be played, and we changed that. We lasted; it was the same 6 forwards that played in ’74 that played in ’79. We had longevity and knew each other so well. We developed a strong comradery and still meet on a regular basis a couple of times a year and go on trips together. In fact we’re travelling to Portugal in May, to commemorate 40 years since our 1976 victory against Kerry.”
Last year your team lost Dave Billings and the year before that you lost Heffo himself. How have those losses been for the team?
“The loss of Dave Billings was huge for our group because he was the first of the group that started in 1973 that died and it shakes you, your own mortality comes into play. Dave was a hell of a character and is sadly, sadly missed. I played with Dave from St. Vincent’s all the way up and he was a very close family friend. His kids are close to my kids, and his wife Nettie and my wife Caitriona are close.
Again, with Kevin, when he died it was extremely sad to see the passing of such a legendary man. He was a great footballer, hurler and the chairman in St. Vincent’s. He had the illness for a while and we all knew. Prior to his death we had a meal to celebrate his life with us. It was in Clontarf Golf Club and he was very ill at the time so it was very quiet at first. Then Dave Hickey stood up and said that ‘this is our group of people and Kevin’s going through a tough patch so let’s rally around him and get pissed and have a good day’ which we did. The crowds at his funeral were huge and we all at some point carried his coffin in or out of the church in Marino.”
What do you think of the current game?
“The movement and the running and total football of the current game is one I would have loved to have been a part of. Certainly the way they are looked after is totally different to what we had. After training we got a Marietta biscuit and a cup of tea, nowadays they’re looked after so well with nutritionists, physios, ice baths etc. The game itself is very different now, it’s moved on in steps since I played. We changed things when I was a selector with Pat O’Neill, Jim Brogan and Fran Ryder . We brought in a sports psychologist and we had a nutritionist speak to the panel but it’s stepped up hugely since then. They are professionals nowadays and it shows.
Management of the Dublin team today is exceptionally good. They aren’t afraid to bring in people to help and that shows maturity. The fearless way they brought in young players is something to be noted too.”
Do you still go to the games yourself?
“I go to most of the games, yeah. At this year’s all Ireland I was in the Cusack stand looking out at the Hill and it’s just phenomenal. To see the supporters and what we started in the 70’s has gathered such momentum over the years, it’s great. These days though you’d find me on the golf course instead of the GAA pitch!”