My boyhood idol Brian Mullins was a great mentor when I entered Dublin squad at 19
To have a giant of a man like Mullins telling you he’ll be at your shoulder if there’s trouble, well it was comforting and it was great.
There I was a skinny 19-year-old, just a few months after doing my Leaving Cert, walking into a Dublin football dressing room in the autumn of 1981.
It was a different split season back then, the National League was played before and after Christmas – and here I was being called in to the holy-of-holies, so that I could have a look at what was going on, and so that they could have a look at me.
And there before me in the dressing room were three of my idols, three idols of any Dublin boy of the time – Kevin Heffernan, Anton O’Toole and Brian Mullins.
And now they are all in heaven, plotting and scheming already I’ve no doubt, to help Dublin recover the Sam Maguire Cup next summer.
It is hard to believe Mullins is gone, he was a man-mountain in every way.
Physically, of course, but also with his presence, his voice, his understanding of football.
He was a Dublin warrior, who came back from a car crash in 1980 that almost cost him his life, to play in three more All-Ireland Finals and win one of them.
Brian holds a record he will have hated holding.
No other man has ever lost five All-Ireland Finals to the same county, but that was Brian’s fate against Kerry in 1975, ’78, ’79, ’84 and ’85.
And he hated losing – to anyone. I always remember him telling me back then – “you lose with grace and dignity, but you don’t ever like it. Anyone not hurt by losing a big match is playing the wrong game, for the wrong county.”
He was an imposing figure who was always respected and always giving advice to youngsters.
I remember fondly him telling me once, “Charlie, if a match is passing you by, do something, get booked, start a skirmish, do anything to get yourself into the match, to make the other team take you seriously. If you need back-up in the row, don’t worry, there will be plenty with you.”
There will be those looking back at my career, saying, “Jaysus, Charlie, you didn’t need much encouragement to start a row yourself.”
But when you are a kid, going into the man’s world of inter-county Gaelic Football, to have a giant of a man like Mullins telling you he’ll be at your shoulder if there’s trouble, well it was comforting and it was great.
Until the great Dublin team of the last decade went on their winning run, Brian, Anton and Mattie McDonagh of Galway were the only non-Kerry Gaelic footballers from the modern era to have four All-Ireland medals.
How great might Mullins have been but for the car crash that cost him two of the prime years of his football career, and which hindered his mobility in the closing stages of that career?
We’ll never truly know because, daft as it is to say it, and as great as he was, but for those dreadful injuries in 1980 there might have been even more to come from Mullins.
In recent times, Dublin football has been blessed with mighty midfielders.
The torch was passed, from Des Foley to Mullins, on to Ciarán Whelan and now Brian Fenton.
You can pick your two from four for those midfield places on your fantasy team.
But for Dubs of my age it would always be Mullins and one of the other three.
He stood alone, blond hair streaming, rising into the air to take a high ball, surging down the middle of the pitch to create a goal chance for us forwards.
I last met him a couple of months ago, on the day of the Dublin-Meath Leinster Championship match.
There was a fund-raising gig to which every Dublin footballer who had won an All-Star was invited.
Mullins didn’t usually go to such gatherings, but for some reason he came to this one and he was his usual self, which meant we got a bit of everything that was Brian Mullins.
He was larger than life as ever, grumpy at times, which was him, and a magical man to tell a story or two.
And yes, he had an opinion on where the Dubs were going this year.
But it was also the last time I ever spoke to one of Dublin’s greatest.
It was a few days later that I learned he had taken ill – and now he has gone.
To his family I offer my deepest sympathies, you have lost a loved one.
But you have the memories and you share them with every Dublin football supporter of a certain age, of a blond colossus in a sky-blue shirt, the leader of a team that changed Gaelic Football forever.
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