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Wednesday 19 June 2019

''74 our greatest victory because it came from nothing'

Paddy Cullen and Anton O’Toole at an event to mkark the 40th anniversary of Dublin’s 1974 All-Ireland win
Paddy Cullen and Anton O’Toole at an event to mkark the 40th anniversary of Dublin’s 1974 All-Ireland win

News of his passing enveloped the capital in pathos; then came the poignant second wave of wonderful memories. Anton O'Toole has become the first member of Heffo's celebrated seventies crew to pass to his eternal reward.

In many other ways, he was a first among equals. Along with Brian Mullins, he was the only Dublin footballer to start all four of their All-Ireland SFC triumphs in that epic 'Decade of the Dubs' covering 1974 to 1983.

He was among the select crew to start six consecutive All-Irelands between '74 and '79 as Kevin Heffernan's Dublin and Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry jostled for ultimate supremacy.

The owner of a revered left boot, he also possessed one of the greatest of all GAA nicknames. 'The Blue Panther' had such a unique ring that it could never be purloined by any rival player, county or code.

Trawling through some old interviews on this sad morning, it quickly becomes apparent that this son of Synge Street had a particularly strong attachment to the seventies team on which he first made his name.

He made his National League debut in December 1972, against Longford, at a time when Dublin football was almost like an inter-county afterthought and supporter engagement at a low ebb.

Even the young O'Toole wasn't sure if he was cut out for it. Recalling an early league defeat to a vaunted Cork, he said: "I never got a kick in the match and I remember walking home up Camden Street saying, 'I'm not going to make it here.'"

All changed with Heffernan's arrival, and O'Toole became a mainstay of the remarkable transformation in the fortunes and status of Dublin football, a legacy that has carried on through the generations.

In an interview with Cian Murphy - published by the Irish Examiner ahead of the 2011 All-Ireland final - O'Toole recalled the 1974 decider against Galway as the best of his four.

"That was our greatest victory because it came from nothing. We had absolutely no expectation of winning an All-Ireland in '74," he admitted.

Further September glory would come against Kerry in '76 and Armagh a year later, sandwiched by three defeats to the Kingdom in '75, '78 and '79.

The second coming of Anton O'Toole, erstwhile wing-forward trojan, would see him return at full-forward for more two All-Ireland appearances.

As one of the 'Twelve Apostles' after three of his teammates were banished by referee John Gough in a torrid 1983 decider, the then 32-year-old helped to steer Dublin to victory over 14-man Galway.

Yet, as part of David Walsh's seminal 1989 essays for Magill magazine about Heffernan's Dublin, his riveting article on O'Toole reveals that he didn't have the same attachment to his fourth and final Celtic Cross. For him, the seventies team was a "special group".

"I don't mean any disrespect to the guys in 1983 but that medal does not compare with the others. I knew I was capable of performing in 1983 but I did not want to," he recalled. "I did not, could not, have the same rapport with the new group. I really don't know why I came back. I certainly would not have if it were not for the fact that Tommy Drumm was still there."

In 1984, O'Toole was back in Croke Park on the losing side to a resurgent Kerry.

It was his eighth All-Ireland appearance, and the swansong to a brilliant Sky Blue career whose memory endures.

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