Sergeant Hearns made Mayo and many more punch above their weight

Dick Hearns is perhaps the greatest Mayo sportsperson you have never heard of.

When the county won their first All-Ireland in 1936, Hearns was the man who put them through their paces and trained them to championship success.

The Ballina native had played with the county for a couple of seasons before retiring from the game at 25 to concentrate on his boxing career.

Living in Dublin and working at the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park he maintained contact with his former team-mates who were admirers of his attitude and approach towards the game and physical fitness.

So much so they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Henry Kenny (An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny’s father) and Paddy Moclair asked him to train the team,” recalled his son Frank.

“When Mayo won the championship they were invited to America but there were only a certain number of places on the trip. There were two priests brought instead of him and nobody did anything about it so he said he wouldn’t be involved again.

And he wasn’t involved again until 1949 when he trained them again but they were beaten by Meath in the semi-final.”

A few years back, Frank met an old priest from the Carmelite Church on Berkeley Road in Dublin. A Galway man, he remembered his father and an unknown tale about the 1936 team.

“His brother was a priest there so the night before the game, the team were staying in Barry’s Hotel, he called up for him and brought him to the players to hear their confessions,” laughed Frank.

“The old priest told me he was taking no chances.”

That tale merely touches on the feats of Dick Hearns inside and outside the lines of competition.

From the 1930s through to the ‘60s he trained and played for teams across the country.

In all he lined out for six senior inter-county teams before calling it a day. After completing a Physical Education training course with the Army, aged just 16, he was asked to line out for Roscommon. Thereafter he played with Cork, Longford, Donegal, Dublin and Mayo at senior level, winning several county titles along the way.

But his allegiance was always to the red and green of his home place.

“To the day he died he followed Mayo,” added Frank.

Despite boxing for Ireland, leading Mayo to the All-Ireland and training Shelbourne for a Cup Winners’ Cup clash with Barcelona, his favourite achievement came in 1929 when he helped the gardaí claim the Dublin SFC title.

“There was a famous goalkeeper with O’Tooles, Johnny McDonnell,” recalled his son Frank. “He wore an ordinary hat but pushed it up the crown like a bowler’s hat. Dad told me he was playing full-forward and O’Tooles were winning by two points in the last minute. McDonnell caught the ball and this was when you could shoulder the ’keeper. He said ‘I hit him and put the ball, himself and his hat in the net’ and the gardaí won.”

After retiring from the Gardaí he stepped back from sport. While Mayo football always remained a massive part of his life, his sons were Dublin men and this weekend they’ll be following the blue and navy.

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