The wall mural on Popular Row in Ballybough gained a new addition, another reminder for those quickstepping their way to Croke Park of one of Gaelic football’s greats. Brian Mullins – who passed away in September after a short illness, just days after his 68th birthday – was one of the most influential players in Dublin’s regeneration under Kevin Heffernan.
Mullins, indeed, was the youngest member of Heffo’s team, which came from nowhere in the summer of 1974 to reclaim the Sam Maguire Cup after an 11-years drought. In an honour-laden career the St Vincent’s stalwart would win four All-Irelands while also leaving an indelible mark on the sporting landscape as an educator, spending much of the 1990s as principal of Carndonagh CC in Donegal and then assuming the role of head of sport at UCD.
Growing up in Clontarf, Mullins was immersed in many sports before he became an iconic presence on Dublin teams. He played rugby for Clontarf and interprovincial with Leinster Under 19s while also performing through his youth at high levels in cricket, swimming, athletics, basketball, tennis, soccer and hurling.
But it was in Gaelic football that he built his legacy.
Mullins was just 19 when drafted into the Dublin team by Heffernan and – as later under the management of another Vincent’s stalwart Tony Hanahoe – would become a firm fan of Hill 16 in a playing career during which he overcame a serious car accident to continue his presence as the heartbeat of the Dubs.
As his former team-mate Dr Pat O’Neill recalled of Mullins, “he was a tremendous workhorse as well as being a talented footballer. He was big, strong and athletic. He’d go in anywhere and actually got a lot of goals, including important goals.”
In his playing career, Mullins won four All-Irelands, two National Leagues and nine Leinster championships with Dublin and five county club titles with St Vincents, plus three provincials and one All-Ireland.
Mullins gave all four of his All-Ireland medals away – three to family members – and donated his 1983 Celtic Cross to the 1985 Live Aid auction.
On his death, Dublin GAA Co Board’s statement read: “In the recent past it has been often said that Dublin teams stood on the shoulders of giants. Today we lost one of those giants. Brian Mullins was a colossus and a Dublin GAA legend. Whether in the blue and white of St Vincent’s or the sky blue of Dublin, Brian was a dominant force who inspired his team-mates. Majestic fielding, perpetual motion, clever and accurate in possession and capable of getting vital scores, he was indomitable with an iron will to win ... his deeds will live in the hearts and minds of Dublin supporters and, indeed, well beyond the county lines, forever.”
In December, the Royal County paid respects to Peter Darby, one of only seven men to have led Meath to the All-Ireland football championship. Darby (84) was cornerback on the Meath team that beat Cork in the 1967 final at Croke Park as the county lifted the Sam Maguire for the third time.
Regarded as one of Meath’s greatest dual players, Darby also represented the county in hurling. He won three Leinster senior football titles (1964, 1966 and 1967) and a Division Two national hurling league title in 1962. He also captained the Meath footballers on their ground-breaking trip to play Australia in 1968, a tour that would lead to the creation of the International Rules series.
The GAA world was saddened by the tragically premature death of Red Óg Murphy, who took his own life in April. He was 21.
A precocious football talent with Sligo and on the DCU Sigerson Cup team, Murphy’s death – as his mother Geraldine outlined to Malachy Clerkin in these pages – left many unanswered questions.
“The hope,” she said, “would be that if somebody reads this, if they have mental health issues, that they wouldn’t hide it. That they’d talk up. Obviously there was something that Red Óg covered up. Or maybe there was an accumulation of stuff that week that got to him. We don’t know. But we hope that they would talk. Because I don’t think young ones do talk.”
Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) (1940-2022)
The one and only Pelé – regarded by many as the greatest footballer the game has ever seen – was the only player to have won the World Cup three times.
A pure footballer who could dribble, head the ball and shoot with either foot, Brazil’s original No. 10 died aged 82 after a lengthy battle with colon cancer.
Pelé burst on to the global scene as a 17-year-old when he was included in the Brazilian squad that travelled to Sweden for the World Cup finals in 1958 where he played a pivotal role in A Seleção’s first triumph in the tournament.
In those finals, Pelé scored six goals, including two fantastic strikes in the 5-2 final win over hosts Sweden.
Four years later, at Chile 1962, Pelé's impact was not so great. A thigh muscle tear in Brazil’s second group game forced him to watch the rest of his country’s triumphant campaign from the sidelines. Brazil disappointed at the 1966 finals in England but Pelé found redemption in his performances in the 1970 finals in Mexico, where he scored four times in the tournament, including one in the final win over Italy.
For the player known as O Rei – “The King” – that third World Cup win provided the highlight of his playing career with Brazil, while he also enjoyed a tremendous club career with Santos. He made his debut for the club as a 15-year-old and went on to spend 19 seasons with them before dramatically coming out of retirement in 1975 to play with New York Cosmos in a move that was seen as bringing the “beautiful game” to the USA.
Lester Piggott (1935-2022)
One of flat racing’s truly great jockeys, Piggott – who rode his first winner as a 12-year-old – had a racing career that spanned 47 years and saw him ride 4,493 winners in Britain and 850 on his forays to Ireland, France, the US, Hong Kong and Singapore.
He was British flat racing champion on 11 occasions and won the Epsom Derby nine times in a career that saw him win no less than 30 British classic races. Nijinsky, Sir Ivor, The Minstrel and Shadeed were among the significant horses he rode majestically to victory at iconic venues in Epsom, Newmarket, the Curragh and Longchamps.
Piggott had a very close affinity with Irish racing and claimed 15 Irish classics, among them five Irish Derby wins, including victory on Shergar in 1981.
He won every English and Irish classic at least twice and claimed France’s greatest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, three times.
The legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien once said he wanted Piggott on his horses because it meant not having him against you.
Tom Kiernan (1939-2022)
One of the true giants of Irish and international rugby, Kiernan enjoyed a career as a player, coach and administrator which left a huge imprint on the sport.
A member of a renowned rugby family, Kiernan – an elegant and brilliant full-back – captained Cork Constitution, Munster, Ireland and the Lions in a playing career that garnered great success. He played 54 tests for Ireland in 14 seasons between 1960 and 1973 (missing only three matches after a run of 52 games in a row when sustaining a broken foot in a draw with France in the opening game of the 1970 Five Nations).
At the time of his retirement, Kiernan was Ireland’s most-capped player and record scorer (with 158 points) in internationals. He captained the British and Irish Lions to South Africa in 1968, playing all four test matches against the Springboks.
Kiernan moved into coaching and then administration after his own playing career finished. He was coach to the Munster team that shocked the All Blacks in 1978 and would serve as chairman of the Five Nations. He was presented with the IRB Distinguished Services Award in 2001.
Frank O’Farrell (1927-2022)
Although he started working on the railways as a 16-year-old, O’Farrell was destined to be a footballer. He was signed by Cork United in his late-teens and spent a year in the League of Ireland before being signed by West Ham United. He played 213 matches in an eight-year spell with the London club before moving on to Preston North End and eventually finishing his professional playing career with Weymouth. He was capped nine times for Ireland between 1952 and 1959.
It was at Weymouth where O’Farrell made his first move into management and there followed spells at Torquay United and Leicester City (reaching the FA Cup final in 1969) before Manchester United came calling in 1971, asking him to succeed Matt Busby.
The Corkman’s spell at Old Trafford, however, was a short one of just 18 months (not helped by a falling out with George Best) and, after being sacked, he continued his managerial career with Cardiff City, the Iranian national team and Torquay.
Doddie Weir (1970-2022)
George Wilson “Doddie” Weir was a Scottish and Lions lock forward who became a campaigner in raising the awareness of motor neuron disease (MND).
Weir – at 1.98 metres – was marked out early by the Scottish selectors as a player of potential and he won 61 caps for Scotland in the 1990s and was selected for the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa but his participation was curtailed after suffering a serious knee injury.
The high point of his career was scoring two tries against the All Black in the quarter-final of the 1996 World Cup.
Weir was diagnosed with MND in 2017 and set about raising funds for research into the disease. He established the My Name’5 Doddie charitable foundation (the 5 came from his shirt number for Scotland) which, in the time to his death in November, had raised some €10 million to fund research into the terminal disease.
Billy Bingham (1931-2022)
Born in Belfast, William Laurence Bingham was set to follow a family tradition of working at Harland & Wolff as an electrician before football became his profession. He enjoyed a hugely successful career as a player – spending eight seasons with Sunderland during which he scored 45 goals in 206 matches –, with the high point of his international playing career coming in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden where his Northern Ireland team progressed to the quarter-finals after finishing ahead of Argentina and Czechoslovakia in the group stages.
Bingham’s club playing career reaped dividends too, reaching an FA Cup final with Luton Town in 1959 and being part of Everton’s winning team in 1963.
However, it was as a manager that Bingham left a huge imprint on the game. He wasn’t afraid of travel, his managerial CV featuring Southport, a first spell as Northern Ireland manager (in 1967) while also managing Linfield, then Greece, AEK Athens, Everton, PAOK, Mansfield and, then, fatefully, a second spell as Northern Ireland manager in 1980.
He won the British Home Nations championship with the team in 1980 and then led Northern Ireland to the finals of the 1982 World Cup where they topped their group and recorded a shock 1-0 win over hosts Spain before bowing out at the second phase.
Bingham would lead Northern Ireland to further successes in the British Home Nations (in 1983 and again in 1984, the last time the competition was played) and then steered his team to another World Cup finals in 1986.
Lily Spence (1924-2022)
The 10th president of the Camogie Association, Elizabeth “Lily” Spence was born in Belfast and followed up a hugely successful playing career by becoming one of the sport’s best-known referees and administrators.
Spence was part of the 1947 Antrim team that won the All-Ireland camogie final, beating Dublin 2-4 to 2-1, in a final played at Corrigan Park in Belfast.
She served Antrim at every administrative role and served as Camogie President from 1956 to 1959. She refereed four All-Ireland finals (in 1953 and 1955 and then back-to-back finals in 1971 and 1972).
From this parish
David McKechnie (1976-2022)
The deputy foreign editor of The Irish Times, McKechnie – who died unexpectedly in April – previously worked between 1996 and 1999 for the Sunday Tribune as a sports writer, primarily covering football. He later served for a year as the newspaper’s UK-based football correspondent and then worked as a production editor for the Sunday Times and the Guardian.
Peter Byrne (1935-2022)
Known as “The Doyen” of Irish football, Byrne held numerous roles in The Irish Times in his 38 years with the newspaper including soccer, boxing and athletics correspondent in a career that also saw him indelibly linked with former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton, with whom he wrote three books.
Byrne covered six World Cup finals and eight Olympic Games. On his passing, Tony O’Donoghue, the president of the Irish Soccer Writers’ Association, remarked: “Peter truly was the doyen of Irish football writing, a mentor to many and always a welcome face and an unmistakable voice in the press box.”