Pat O’Neill: Jim Gavin’s Dublin team could eclipse Kevin Heffernan 70s stars

Dublin football great Dr Pat O’Neill believes the current team are just one more win away from eclipsing the great side of the 1970s that he played on.

Jim Gavin has consistently rejected comparisons between the present team and the 1970s group despite each winning three All-Irelands.

Gavin’s team has won more National League medals though their Leinster championship records are similar with both teams winning a six-in-a-row.

There’s not much between them in All Star terms either with Dublin picking up a combined 22 awards from the 1974, 1976 and 1977 wins and the present side claiming 19 from 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Crucially, those Kevin Heffernan managed teams of the ‘70s rose from a significantly lower base and inspired a generation, with O’Neill describing all of Dublin’s All-Ireland wins since as Heffo’s ‘rolling legacy’.

But, in purely statistical terms, Dublin’s 1995 All- Ireland winning manager acknowledged if the present side picks up a fourth title this weekend by beating Mayo, they will be more successful.

“It’s a comment that comes up for discussion and there’s always these comparisons with eras,” said O’Neill, an All-Ireland winner in 1976 and 1977. “Games are different and a team is of its individual era really. But, certainly, this team has achieved success and having been part of the ‘70s team myself (I would say) that they have performed equally to this point.

“Whether they’re going to be considered a greater team is going to hinge on their performance in winning this one really. They’re probably equal at this stage so going forward it’ll depend on that.”

So the history books will be rewritten to record this as the greater Dublin team if they beat Mayo?

“I think that’ll be it, yeah,” responded O’Neill. “They’ve certainly succeeded with a lot of what they’ve done so far, this would be the fourth All-Ireland in six years. Doing the numbers, that says that (they’d be more successful).”

O’Neill compared Dublin’s opponents, Mayo, to the Sky Blues team he managed in ‘95 with both sides losing two All-Ireland finals. He said in his case it began to feel like a hoodoo or curse before Dublin finally won in ‘95.

“You do think that way but you’re trying to bring the numbers along with you and to get the players to have the confidence they can push on and invariably they do because they know where they’ve got to before and they know there’s another step to go,” said O’Neill.

“But it does take that little extra bit of physical and psychological work to try and convince them of that. Of course, frustration sets in and if frustration sets in then you get disciplinary issues, both within the team and then in terms of the deliverance of the game plan. Reflecting back all those years ago, we had those issues as well and they’re understandable.”

Gavin has difficult decisions to make in the coming days as Dublin pursue back to back titles to match the achievement of the ‘77 team that O’Neill was on.

The starting forwards delivered just two points from play between them in the drawn final last Sunday week and there are question marks over Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn and Kevin McManamon with Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion and Eoghan O’Gara all hoping for call-ups.

Interestingly, O’Neill suggested Gavin will make changes but could name a dummy team.

“I think he will make (changes), I know he’s conservative but he probably will,” he said. “It might be the same 15 that’ll be listed to play but I don’t think it’ll be the same 15 starting. I think there will be a mix up there.”

Dr Pat O’Neill was speaking at the launch of the Bon Secours Health System and UPMC National Concussion Symposium in association with the GAA which takes place at Croke Park on October 8.

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