September 16, 1994
Gay O'Driscoll - Defender of Dublin G.A.A. for 14 years.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man! Just one of the exclamations which heralded another crash, bang, wallop report on the monumentous adventures of each and everyone of the Dubs some twenty years ago. So many stars, so much talent. Each and everyone of them master exponents of the game of gaelic football as played particularly well by the mercurial Metropolitans. A score and more years ago, Dublin old boy Gay O'Driscoll was in his element. The ravages of time has seen to it that he'll only be an onlooker at Croke Park on Sunday next. There'll be a few more knowledgeable spectators about though, that's guaranteed.
O'Driscoll, the eagle-eyed former star defender retired from intercounty football all of fifteen years ago. So many reading this magazine will have never seen him play in the flesh that what follows as a profile could as well be scripted on one Alf Tupper, or Roy of the Rovers or any other imaginary luminary. But O'Driscoll was for real. A Kevin Heffernan prototype, a product of a great time for gaelic football and just as much a hero for young Dubs of the sixties and seventies as our aforementioned athlete and soccer player, Gay O'Driscoll can be forgiven for waxing lyrical on Sunday's anticipated Herculean clash with more than a bit of nostalgia.
As sound a corner back as Dublin ever produced before or since their second coming in '74, Gay knows all about the romanticism and aura of featuring in the greatest sporting spectacle this country has ever devised. The successful footballer turned businessman knows as much as could be known about All-Ireland football final day because he played in six of them on the trot with the Dubs. Memories are made of Croke Park in September. Most of Gay O'Driscolls are thankfully good ones, even those surrounding his retirement from the game.
He was thirty-three years of age when he quit the game he loves. Said goodbye in '79 to football at every level, club and county and still maintains it was the wise thing to do at the time. "I wasn't too disappointed after our defeat in '79 and to be honest I wasn't particularly looking forward to another year of having to settle for a place on the bench on occasions. I got a calf injury before the '79 All-Ireland semi final and had to make do with coming on as a substitute in the final so the writing was on the wall".
Disappointed in defeat but many would have loved to have boasted of anything resembling Gay O'Driscoll's innings on the most high profile stage of all. Reflection back on the water that has gone under the gaelic football bridge in the interim, the Dorsett Street based businessman doesn't beat about the bush in making comparisons about the football being played now and the football then.
"I think the overall level of skill in the game has dropped. Being an amateur sport, there's only so much time people can take off from work etc. to practise the basics of the game but in my personal opinion that still doesn't account for the fact that there's too much emphasis on physical fitness. Players nowadays have a phenomenal level of fitness, a level of fitness that is akin to that sought after by an Olympian. Players time is limited but the emphasis is misplaced and the skills have suffered", the 47 year old Dub suggested.
A player who figured prominently in the classic Dublin versus Kerry confrontation that was the 1977 All-Ireland semi final, Gay concedes that particular game his senses were almost numb. "I was drained both physically and mentally. It wasn't an exhausting game to play in. Just really enjoyable and at the time I realised I was part of something special and in light of what happed between ourselves and Kerry I suppose it's easy to understand why people seeing in on the telly for periods afterwards would come to regard it as a classic".
A Director with his brother Brendan of O'Driscoll Office Furniture, Equipment and Stationary Supplier, Dorset Street (established since 1975 and employing ten), Gay O'Driscoll played his first game for Dublin Senior Football team in 1965 against Tipperary in the long - gone Bloody Sunday tournament and remembers the fourteen years of top class football that followed thereafter with nothing but gladness and genuine fondness. He acknowledges that the Dublin teams of the Heffernan era played a type of football that not only included a new concept in the quick transfer of the ball but also made an art out of the handpass specifically.
"We perfected the handpass to suit our type of game and the fact that few other teams couldn't master it in a similar fashion wasn't our fault. The handpass took the last tackle out of the game and allowed the forward the opportunity of getting rid of the ball quickly and effectively. It's introduction was a tremendous boost to the game and it helped enormously in making the games so much more exciting and great spectacles in their own right. I always believed that the only way to combat the handpass was for a back to make sure he was as fit and as fast as his opponent. The only way to stop the forward was to get to the ball first. A lot depended on a player's level of concentration for this tactic to be a success".
Describing adverse comments about the current Dublin teams handpassing techniques as a "begrudging type of attitude from some commentators. Gay nonetheless expresses sympathy for the plight of referees in interpreting the legitimacy or otherwise of the transfer of the ball in the modern game. Especially as he says when it is done at speed. "The handpass in the seventies was more simpler but more prevalent then. It is much more difficult to interpret now and I'd be reluctant to criticise refs. The rules as they presently stand tend to leave too much to the refs in trying to interpret them which is unfair as they have a hard enough task as it is without putting them under even more pressure".
Amazingly the young O'Driscoll was never considered good enough as a footballer to make it on to the Dublin County Minor or Under 21 teams. His only underage representative appearances for Dublin were ironically in hurling and it was as a hurler that he suffered the biggest disappointment of his career. In 1967 he had the misfortune of playing at midfield on the Dublin under 21 team which lost by a single point to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final. Of all the painful injuries and intermittent defeats suffered on the football field, none were to hurt his quite as much as that fateful day when the Premier County played party-poopers.
Born in West Cork in 1946, the son of a Royal Navy serviceman, Gay O'Driscoll cut his educational and sporting teeth at Saint Josephs College in Fairview. He did well in both disciplines and treated each with equal preference. As a gasun his natural inclination was to become a Bobby Charlton fan like his peers but under the expert guidance of Saint Vincents mentor Emmet Memory, his extra-curricular activities were mainly given over to gaelic games rather than taking part in the fashionable worship of Man.United papaphernalia. Over thirty years on and the call to play gaelic games is as strong as ever as attractive as soccer is to most youngsters. Thanks in part to the influence exerted by Dubs of the '74 and '77 ilk of whom O'Driscoll was synonymous.
"When we came to the forefront there was almost a cultural type revolution. All of a sudden gaelic football started to get a hearing amongst the youngsters in the city. It was a watership in the promotion of football in Dublin and for this kind of reason, the G.A.A. needs another All-Ireland win for Dublin. The country could do with another All-Ireland for Dublin", Gay insisted.
Involved in the mainstream of hurling affairs now at his beloved Saint Vincents Club in Marino, Gay admits that he'll be going to Croke Park this weekend more in hope than in expectation. "My heart would be ruling my head if I were to predict a Dublin win in the final", he confessed. Discounting the theory that Dublin's name is on the Sam Maguire Cup since sweeping aside the challenge of Kildare, the veteran Dub who coached Kilmainhamwood (Brian Stafford and company) to Intermediate Championship glory in Meath as far back as '82 is looking forward to a titanic clash at Headquarters. As good a clash as ever transpired between the Dubs and the young guns of Kerry circa '75. Maybe not. Gay O'Driscoll though won't mind as long as Sam is back in the capital on Sunday evening!
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
16th Sept 1994
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