September 18, 1992
Dublin's Simon Behan
Simon Behan of Dublin '63 fame - still heavily involved
Dubs old boy Simon Behan was more relieved than most when the Metropolitans ended Clare's fairytale odyssey in this year's All-Ireland football series. Hardly an avid member of the Humanus Horoscopus tribe nor a believer in the tea leaves theory, the former sixties ace just couldn't be convinced however that Clare weren't capable of bringing Dublin's current stars crashing down to earth.
Memories of Dublin's infamous defeat to surprise packets New York in the 1964 National League Final played in the Big Apple, come flooding back as pre semi final hype announcing a white wash swamped the capital city. Within the space of twelve months, Simon Behan and others like Des and Lar Foley, Paddy Holden and Nicky Whelan on the Dublin '63 All-Ireland winning side gained both fame and notoriety among the Dubs faithful in the pubs and clubs around the gaelic Dublin.
"For a long time before October came around, the whole team was looking forward to the trip to America but the game, in the end, proved to be a disaster. I remember we were beaten by just one point and there was a lot of controversy surrounding our inability to take a proper free in the last minute of the game. Anyway, the result came as a major shock to all the players, our manager Brendan Quinn and the whole of Ireland, I suppose," the Saint Vincents clubman recalled this week.
Whatever colours are pinned to the Sam Maguire Cup at the end of next Sunday's showdown, the Marino native is firmly convinced that we can discount the possibility of any shocks emerging. It's too close to call, he confesses, but nevertheless like any good interviewee, Simon sticks his neck out in fancying the favourites to win by the proverbial short neck. "I have the sneaking suspicion that Dublin will edge through on the day. The current team have learned a lot of lessons since their ordeal with Meath last year and their experience gained from those games must stand them in good stead for Sunday's match. Above all, the side has matured a great deal over recent years and if anything else, they now are fully aware that they must survive for seventy minutes."
An Advertising and Public Relations Executive with Texaco Oil, the Ballsbridge based Dub is with the company for the last 31 years, a period which exactly encompasses his fully fledged immersion into the mainstream of Dublin's high profile GAA circle. It was back in 1961 that the true blue gael first pulled on a county senior jersey. As a conspicuous underage starlet with northside amalgamation sides and club tea, Saint Vincents, Behan graduated with ease through Dublin's minor and under 21 sides, his reputation as a polished performer greatly enhanced.
His progression in the gaelic football world was natural and almost pre ordained given his sporting background. His father Simon, from the football stronghold of Ballybrittas in County Laois, was a dyed in the wool GAA man while his late mother Margaret (nee McGinty) was county Donegal (how ironic, considering Sunday's big game), was also a product of great footballing stock. His parents decision to settle in Marino, next to the GAA nurseries of the local Christian Brothers School, Saint Josephs of Fairview and nearby Scoil Mhuire was to be the appropriate catalyst for Simon's integration and development as a master of the gaelic code.
A member of the first Dublin based CBS school to win the All-Ireland Colleges football, that 1959 triumph brought to the fore players of great quality such as Sean "Blackie" Coen, a player Simon always maintained "could have made it at any grade he liked. Living and being schooled in an area that was later to become the breeding ground of such notables as Kevin Heffernan, Jimmy Keaveney and tony Hanahoe. From the age of six, until schooling was complete, people like Cavan bred Brother McCaffrey drilled a young Behan and his peers in the skills of football and music as well. "Brother McCaffrey not alone produced some very good gaelic footballers, he can also take some credit in fine tuning the skills of Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains and the Dubliner's John Sheehan," explained the one time Dublin GAA ace.
Within three years of gaining an honours Leaving Certificate, the former 'Vincents dynamo had collected a county championship medal and an All-Ireland. From 1963 onwards, right up to 1968, Simon Behan was to install himself as a permanent fixture on the Dublin senior team. A handful of Dublin senior championship medals were earned in '62, '67 and 1968 plus a similar number of Leinster provincial county medals with a Dublin side that hauled in the crowds in successive halcyon days. Those were days when the Dublin-Meath rivalry really merged as something special. The sixties era gave birth in fact to the now famous rivalry between the two counties. Behan was part of that burgeoning tradition and he remembers opponents like Collier, Quinn, Darby and Noel Curran (father of current Dub Paul) as formidable Meath ambassadors.
At his peak just before the advent of the Leinster club competition and just after the initiation of the Texaco Sports Stars Awards, Simon Behan was joined on the all-conquering Saint Vincents side of the sixties and seventies by brothers Mick and the eldest of the trio, Paddy. It was a successful alliance in every way, made Margaret and Simon Behan Snr. proud parents and Dublin's senior squad all the stronger too. All three, according to Simon, graduated from the school of naturally learned ball skills, days when coaching manuals belonged to libraries in foreign parts and addressed themselves to foreign sports.
"The gaelic football played back in the sixties seemed to be more instinctive, there was football training firstly and then fitness training later. The same type of flair that was evident then doesn't seem to be present in the game nowadays. Certain skills are missing, I have to say."
A firm believer that there is a danger that the emphasis on coaching can be over-exaggerated, Simon wouldn't nevertheless ignore the value of employing simple tactics in gaelic games, an indication no doubt of the sort of mental warfare which has always been part and parcel of big time football in big time football in big time competitions. There, the comparison or resemblance linking football of the sixties era and that of modern times ends, according to the affable Texaco chief. "There is no resemblance between the two eras as regards preparation for games, training routines and match fitness. Thirty years ago, the Dublin county team only trained twice per week, but I still believe that the skill level was higher then."
Interestingly, Simon even went as far as attempting to gauge the likely winner of a match (created in Heaven) between the Dublin '63 side and the current metropolitans. "It's hypothetical of course and very difficult to compare teams whose root lie in different eras. If pressed, I would say that the present Dublin squad would win. Simply on the basis that the game has speeded up so much over the years and that their superior fitness level would edge them home."
From his Ballsbridge base, from where he works alongside 'erstwhile rugby personalities such as Dan Langan, Maurice Mortell and Terry More plus ex-Meath GAA star Brendan Murray, Simon Behan's 40 year old involvement in GAA affairs takes a back seat temporarily. Once evening comes, the oil company executive is invariably back on the ground where he first made a name for himself. There, alongside fellow selectors John Behan (no relation) and Brian Dwyer, the Saint Vincent's intermediate side are put through their paces. It's part of his life that has become routine but nevertheless satisfying and sometimes very rewarding. It's lief in the middle lane, just the way Simon likes to have it come evening time and weekends.
Just last year a key member of Dublin's veteran over 40s side, Simon's penchant for keeping in shape is something that his family are well used to and are fully appreciative of. Wife Ethna, a Roscommon lady and children Samantha, Ethna, Mary, Ann-Marie, Sarah and Saint Michael's school based son Steven know that any severance of such an involvement in GAA affairs for Simon would coincide with Cennarus deciding to change the round ball for an oval one!
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
18th September 1992
Most Read Stories