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Monday 26 September 2016

Dave Billlings: Mr Belfield - and a true Blue legend

Bernard Brogan celebrates with former Dublin manager Garda Paul Caffrey and former selector Dave Billings, left
Bernard Brogan celebrates with former Dublin manager Garda Paul Caffrey and former selector Dave Billings, left

IN all the tributes that flooded Twitter in response to yesterday's thunderbolt news that the incorrigible Dave Billings was no longer among us, one encapsulated the man perfectly.

"Davy Billings spent his last evening watching St Vincent's v Ballyboden in hurling in UCD. Something very right about that. A great man." So tweeted Tomás Quinn, his fellow Dub and Vins man.

You couldn't have a more fitting epitaph to a man who seemed to challenge the laws of bilocation, such was his omnipresence at GAA matches throughout the capital, no matter how grand or humble the event.

READ MORE: Dublin GAA mourns death of football stalwart Dave Billings

Glamour inter-county occasions. Sigerson or Fitzgibbon Cup showdowns. County finals in Parnell. Freshers friendlies. Or Vins v Boden on a Tuesday evening in April.

The thing about Dave Billings, though, is that while he bled blue, there was so much more to this multi-faceted man.

He may have been the quintessential Diehard Dub ... yet to many others from all over Ireland, he was Mr Belfield, a man who transformed UCD football and hurling through his role as Gaelic Games executive. "We owe it all to you," tweeted Offaly's Ciarán McManus. "Made third level experience brighter for so many," echoed Wexford's Diarmuid Lyng. "Did so much for me and others in UCD. An absolute hero," according to Westmeath's John Heslin.

HEROES

Dave Billings lived the full gamut of GAA experience - a dual player of some repute; an All-Ireland medallist with Heffo's heroes of 1974; a Dublin U21 football manager; even a Dublin senior hurling manager for a brief interim while the county board took an eternity to replace Michael O'Grady, some 14 years ago.

But on a national level, he was best known as a Dublin football selector for seven wildly oscillating years, first under Tommy Lyons, later under Paul Caffrey.

Journalists got to know him well in this period. At times, during that combustible post-match window when a result had gone pear-shaped or tensions were running high, you might be best advised not to seek him out for a "how's it going?"

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But then, just as adroitly, he'd disarm you with an epigram that left the assembled GAA scribes (not a known bastion of classical scholars) scratching their heads and breaking their sides, all at once.

"The Sword of Damocles has been lifted," he once proclaimed as he sauntered past us in the Parnell Park tunnel after some pressure-easing victory.

"I would reckon the smartest, most intelligent guy I have ever been in company with. He had a brain that functioned on several fronts, and a political animal as well as a great football strategist," recalled 'Pillar' Caffrey, distraught at the loss of a trusted friend, when speaking to The Herald.

Behind the "tough" corner-back image, according to Caffrey, you would find a "soft centre", a person who was "the greatest giver" of time and knowledge to young people. And he pinpointed the 2011 All-Ireland final aftermath, in Croke Park, as an abiding memory of Dave Billings' devotion to all things Sky Blue.

The duo had served on Dublin management teams for seven years. Now, under a different regime, many of their players had ended the famine (inset): "I never saw him as emotional, and it was just the whole release … he knew he had given seven great years to that team, and he was so proud of that Dublin team."

If there's a celestial senior B challenge on tonight, you know who'll be there.

- FRANK ROCHE

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