Blue Panther Anton O’Toole did it all with humility

The GAA world yesterday began to pay its respects to Dublin football great Anton O’Toole, 68, following his death after a 15-month battle with cancer.

The player widely known as “The Blue Panther” passed away in Our Lady’s Hospice in Harold’s Cross where he had been for the last number of weeks.

The news prompted an abundance of tributes for the four-time All-Ireland winner and three-time All-Star who lined out for Dublin over 13 seasons. The Templeogue-Synge Street man played in six consecutive finals and claimed eight Leinster medals, six of them in a row.

Known as much in the capital as an unassuming, kind gentleman as he was a superb forward, O’Toole played the bulk of his inter-county career in the half-forward-line before reinventing himself as a full-forward when claiming his last Celtic Cross in 1983.

Dublin GAA CEO John Costello hailed him as “a role model for generation after generation of Dublin footballer”. In a statement reacting to his death, Costello continued: “The Synge Street legend is held in the highest of esteem by the current Dublin management and players, as he has been since he retired from the inter-county game in 1984.

“Anton was a brilliant forward who combined bravery, ball-winning ability, team ethic, style and scoring return to grace the playing fields of the country. He initially played for the Dublin juniors, reaching an All-Ireland final in 1971, before making his senior NFL debut in December 1972 against Longford. “His Championship debut came in the summer of 1974 against Wexford, scoring two points. It was the start of an illustrious senior career that was to see him win four Celtic Crosses, having played in seven finals, as well as being honoured as an All-Star in 1975, 1976 and 1977.

Anton O'Toole in action in the 1984 All-Ireland final
Anton O'Toole in action in the 1984 All-Ireland final

“Anton, or the Blue Panther as he is affectionately known by many supporters, won eight Leinster SFC medals - six in-a-row from 1974 to ‘79 as well as in 1983 and ‘84. In 1983 Anton was one of the main guiding lights that inspired Kevin Heffernan’s young team to All-Ireland glory.”

Jim Gavin and a number of the current panel had visited O’Toole in recent weeks, such as his fellow clubmen Eoghan O’Gara and Niall Scully as well as James McCarthy, son of O’Toole’s great friend and former team-mate John.

On Twitter yesterday, the likes of Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny paid their respects to O’Toole, Fenton remembering the poignant video of The Frames singer Glen Hansard serenading O’Toole with Patrick Kavanagh’s Raglan Road on Grafton Street last Christmas Eve, which went viral.

In recent weeks, former team-mate David Hickey had come home from Dubai to spend time with O’Toole while others like Jimmy Keaveney had also visited him.

Keaveney told yesterday: “He was an extraordinary footballer, and the amazing thing about him was he could only kick the ball with his left foot. Opponents knew that, but they could still never catch him!”

Templeogue-Synge Street also released their own tribute to their honoured member: “Our sorrow is also matched by the enormous sense of pride that we feel and the honour that it was to have had him wear our jersey and to call him one of our own. He was the Blue Panther: a Hill 16 hero, a Gaelic football legend and a national sporting treasure due to his prolific role in the iconic Dublin teams of the 70s and 80s.

“To us, in Synge Street Past Pupils GFC and later Templeogue Synge Street GFC he was just Anton or maybe ‘Tooler’, but always an inspirational figure who was the living embodiment that actions speak louder than words.

Fame and adulation were never things to be craved in his eyes. Being able to make a difference, make a contribution and play a part big or small for the cause - be it club or county - was what mattered.

“Anton did all of these things - be it with Synger or Dublin - and did so with a grace and a humility that he also brought to the brave battle he waged against illness in recent times. That rock of reliability that he was synonymous with being as a skilful Dublin forward, he also brought to club level where he helped guide us to a Dublin senior county final in 1977.

“When Templeogue Synge Street would claim senior club championship status by winning the Dublin intermediate championship in 2008 it was with Anton as manager. A number of those who played that day would have played at underage level with Anton as their manager.”

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