The wind cried and the sky darkened as Dublin lost a hero yesterday.
News of Brian Mullins’ death at 68 came as a shock to many in the capital, in large part because he seemed completely indestructible.
In our household growing up, he was a God, a superhero, a creation not-of-this-world and the very rock on which the Dubs were built.
Even if he was Vincent’s.
My dad grew up in Killester, played for Craobh Chiaráin and Vins were the enemy — despite the old man lining out with Marino stalwarts like Dave Billings in school.
Mullins played for Clontarf until he was 16 before joining Vins, so maybe that made the difference, but either way, he could do no wrong for my dad.
As a player, he was last of the high kings… brave, bloody-minded and majestic.
After he’d had retired, every subsequent Dublin midfielder was compared unfavourably.
When the Dubs needed a new manager, well, Mullins was surely the only man.
And that’s the way it went for years.
We lived in Killester for a time too.
From our back garden you could hear the roar from Hill 16 carried on the wind whenever Dublin scored a point or Mullins plucked a ball from the sky.
Some of my first shards of memory are from the 1984 All-Ireland final day and my dad telling me Dublin would win.
It was Kevin Heffernan’s Dubs against Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry. Town against country. Blue against green and gold.
Two great rivals, two great teams, but we had something they didn’t.
We had Mullins.
We had someone who could walk on water. Someone who had cheated death before and brought Sam Maguire home.
Tall, athletic and uncompromising, Mullins was a midfielder made in heaven and the driving force behind Heffo’s Dubs in the 1970s and 1980s.
On Easter Saturday, 1974 he played in the pack for Leinster rugby’s Under-19s against Ulster at Ravenhill.
The following day he made his debut for the Dublin senior team and things would never be the same again.
By .the end of the season he’d won his first Leinster title and helped Dublin to bridge a gap of 11 years since their last All-Ireland. He was still shy of his 20th birthday.
Mullins wasn’t just part of Dublin’s big bang moment. He was the big bang.
It was often said that Heffernan only had three favourites throughout his two tenures as Dublin boss: Mick Holden, Kevin Moran and Mullins.
Even from this distance, it’s not hard to see why. Mullins was a leader with iron in his soul and one who could nearly always find the right pass.
He became a permanent fixture during the era when Kerry and Dublin went toe-to-toe in a series of epic heavyweight battles.
Alongside legends like David Hickey, Jimmy Keaveney, John McCarthy, Anton O’Toole, Tony Hanahoe and many more, Mullins was key in the All-Ireland wins of 1974, 1976 and 1977.
In 1980 it all changed.
Mullins was 25 and at the peak of his powers when his car slammed into a lamppost on the Clontarf Road one June evening that year.
He was lucky to survive, lucky to ever walk again, lucky his injuries weren’t much worse, but amazingly he came back.
It was a long road — when he arrived in New York in 1981 he was barely able to jog. In his absence, Dublin relinquished Leinster to Offaly in 1980 and 1981 and lost again in 1982 when he returned, not quite at full capacity.
When the 1983 season began, Eugene McGee’s men were favourites again, but something was different.
Mullins was back.
Maybe half a yard slower, but a mile quicker in thought, he dragged the Blues kicking and screaming to the provincial title that year, dethroning the Offaly men and bridging the Dublin generation gap with the help of O’Toole and Tommy Drumm.
Mullins was then inspirational in the two games against Cork as the Boys in Blue returned to the All-Ireland final with a rebuilt team featuring Barney Rock, John O’Leary, Kieran Duff and Joe McNally.
The 1983 final wasn’t the highlight of his career by any means — sent off for a stray arm in the first half on a dirty day — but the 1983 season was maybe his greatest, as he led those young Dubs to the promised land.
And so to that 1984 decider.
As a kid I lapped up my dad’s stories about how Ciaran’s had stunned Vincent’s in the 1971 Dublin SHC final — in the days before Mullins — with him in the Donnycarney panel alongside men like Sean Shanley, Shay Sweeney, Donal Rheinisch and Eamonn Flynn.
And the stories of his one lone appearance for the Dublin minor hurling team against Laois that same year alongside Mick Holden in a long-forgotten game.
He knew about football and hurling, he knew about such things, so I believed him when he said the Dubs would win the 1984 final.
He believed it himself.
Unfortunately not too many Dublin points wafted across the wind to our back garden that day.
Not nearly enough anyway.
Kerry ran out easy 0-14 to 1-6 winners, but the result was rectified in the back garden soon afterwards in the imagination of a four-year-old with Mullins winning every ball and feeding an imaginary Rock for a hatful of goals.
The real Mullins helped Dublin to another Leinster title in 1985 and hung up the blue jersey for good after defeat to Kerry (again) in the final that year.
Off the field he made just as big an impact.
First as a student at Thomond College, then as a teacher at Greendale Community College in Kilbarrack and later at Carndonagh Community School in County Donegal and then UCD where he worked for many years.
He also managed Derry to an Ulster title in 1998 and remained a potent figure in St Vincent’s up until his untimely illness during the summer.
Heffernan once described him as “grumpy young fella” with “huge intelligence” and a “heart of gold”.
He told the journalist John Harrington he always tried to get the slagging in first about who was narkiest.
Despite his considerable gifts, he was humble about his abilities and maximised every ounce out of life for his friends and family, club and county.
Back in March, RTÉ’s Marie Crowe asked Mullins what he thought his legacy would be.
“I hope that I tried my best,” he said.
Of that there can be no doubt and what a best it was.
With his death, Dublin has lost one of its foundation stones.
But if you close your eyes today you might just hear a
roar coming across on the breeze.
The sound of the city saluting the great Mullins one more time.
The indestructible midfielder now returned to heaven.
Rest in peace, Brian Mullins, the last high king of Dublin.
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