independent

Monday 21 April 2014

How the silent assassins buried the knife in Paidi O Se's back

LOOKING back, it was the manner in which Paidi O Se was fired, not the fact of it, which has angered him. The silent assassins were plotting for six weeks after O Se carried the can for Kerry's disastrous defeat against Tyrone. Then, in Shakespearean fashion, came the message that put the knife in his back, and when was it finally delivered, it was not from a senior officer of

LOOKING back, it was the manner in which Paidi O Se was fired, not the fact of it, which has angered him. The silent assassins were plotting for six weeks after O Se carried the can for Kerry's disastrous defeat against Tyrone. Then, in Shakespearean fashion, came the message that put the knife in his back, and when was it finally delivered, it was not from a senior officer of the Kerry County Board, but an intermediary.

"How would any man feel about that after 33 years of service to Kerry as a footballer and a manager," said O Se, when I met him and his wife Maire at their Marbella home on Friday.

O Se's personality is extravagant, larger than life, he talks loquaciously, his presence is big and dominant, and his ego is built to proportion. He is classically the type of man who would miss the warning signals, the quiet rhythms of the assassins' murmurs, the hints that he was about to be ambushed. The shock he got still hurts deeply.

"I'm a Westmeath man now. But there was only one team that I ever wanted to play for and that was Kerry," he says in his characteristically expansive way by the swimming pool of his two-storey, palm-fringed house. "I am a loyal Kerry man. I will always be a loyal Kerry man, that goes without question.

"Any person who questions my allegiance to the green and gold must have something wrong with them. I lived for the green and gold. I don't want to leave the county on a sour note, or to be seen to be in any way bitter. That isn't the way Paidi Se is. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

"I have to put it on record that I was extremely disappointed in the manner in which they conveyed their message to me that my services were no longer required. I have a clear conscience on it. I felt sorry for my family and my friends and the people that I work with, selectors and my medical staff, my masseurs, the secretarial staff in Austin Stack Park in Tralee, my groundsmen, all of these people that I worked so closely with, the supporters' club.

"After 33 years of service to Kerry I didn't want a bunch of roses, but I can tell you something, it is up to the people of Kerry to find out how my services were terminated, and how that message was conveyed to me. I am not questioning that decision. I'm not saying it was right or wrong.

"Maybe it was time to freshen it up. The only problem I have is that it was unprofessional. It was untidily done. And yet I will be able to live with that and push that aside. That's done and dusted now. It's over.

"I have gone on to other pastures because I want to stay in the game. My wife Maire is totally behind me. She has given me the green light to go away and train another team. My family, that's my two daughters and my young fellow, always insisted that they stay well back from all this situation. They like to keep their own privacy, and to separate their lives from my lifestyle as a manager. They want that space.

"But for the people who supported me, my wife and my immediate family, for those people I was extremely hurt in the manner in which they conducted their business. Sin e mo sceal seo, agus ma ta breag biodh. [That's my story, and if it's a lie, so be it].

"Never will I train Kerry again. I may train my club, the Gaeltacht. In my press conference in Killarney, I said that I could never see myself training a team against the green and gold. I did say that. That was done possibly in a moment of frustration, because I obviously live with my heart on my sleeve and it had come as a sudden shock. Nobody made any contact with me for six weeks since the Tyrone game. No senior officer of the Kerry County Board made contact with me or my wife, only a person who is not in the upper echelon.

"The first contact was a third party who told me my fate. That was followed by another phonecall. That's the truth. They are the facts.

"I wish my successors Jack O'Connor, Johnny Cullotty and Ger O'Keeffe the best from the bottom of my heart, but that doesn't mean to say now that if we meet them up in Westmeath that I won't be doing my best for the Lake County.

"I am not saying that I was the saviour of Kerry football, but I got myself in trouble last Christmas over a throwaway remark which was meant to be complimentary to Kerry supporters, through the phraseology wasn't the best language to use at the time.

"I basically said that in Kerry we set the standard, that's the reason Kerry have 32 All-Irelands.

"My allegiance is no longer with Kerry now. My allegiance is 150 per cent with Westmeath. That's the way I operate.

"Everything I do in football I put my heart and soul into it. I want to move away from Kerry now and that's no disrespect to Kerry. My term is two years - and my energies are up in Westmeath now in my headquarters in Mullingar."

On whether the 'f**k**g animals' phrase he used in his famous interview with Kevin Kimmage in the Sunday Independent was used against him by his enemies, O Se says, "I'll be honest with you, I don't know. People know me, know where my heart lies. I'm not mentioning Kerry anymore in this interview. And I don't mean that in a bitter way, I have to focus myself now on the job that lies ahead for me.

"I haven't come off the papers for the last three weeks. I am on every paper every day for the last three weeks. I'm on the television. That isn't my choice. I am actually the dead opposite. I am constantly being reminded by my family 'Get off the bloody papers, because Paidi, that's not Paidi Se' and I shall get off the papers when I have my time taken out, my sabbatical taken, my back room in Westmeath put into place. Getting in comfortable up there first, then meeting my players, then putting a panel together and driving forward from there then. That's my goal at the moment."

Asked about his bouts of 'black dog' depression, which first came to public attention on a recent Eamon Dunphy television show, O Se said: "Every footballer gets depressed when he loses. He is not a footballer if he doesn't get depressed. Any player that hasn't got a problem or that doesn't get down after losing a match, losing an All-Ireland or losing a semi-final, he's not a player at all. I do, I get really down if I have a bad night with the team, if training goes bad for me on the night, if players are not responding, yes, I do get very down and depressed. I become very hard to live with.

"I mean, I become very hard to be tolerated at home because I become grumpy when things go against me. Maybe I'm a bit of a spoilt child. I don't know. Maybe my mother spoilt me too much when I was small. But certainly my wife doesn't spoil me because she stands up to me. I do get down when I lose. I am very bad loser. I make no bones about it."

Asked if he had political ambitions with Fianna Fail, O Se replied: "No". But he went on: "I am a devoted supporter of the present Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism John O'Donoghue, and at this point in time, that's where my politics are."

Maire interjects: "He supports the captain of the day, who is our present Taoiseach, and he will always do that. And I know that he supports his local minister, John O'Donoghue. That's okay with me. I am of the same party myself."

Paidi: "But you don't have a problem with me supporting Fianna Fail?"

Maire: "Support, fine, as long as that's how it is."

The greatest footballer he has ever seen was Mick O'Connell: "A great player, magnificent. Mick O'Dwyer is a man that I really admired. He was something else as a manager. Seamus Moynihan was exceptional. Mike Hassett was another great player, who underachieved I felt. He was unfair on himself because there was a lot more in him. He could have been a great, great player. If he just went the extra distance. An exceptional player with extreme talent.

"I also want to put it in record that I have always had the height of respect, irrespective of these fly-by-nights who are above in Dublin, these old smart alecs who aren't worth mentioning in print, who think that I have disrespect for Maurice Fitzgerald, because I haven't, because he is right up there with the best of them.

"An awful lot of people say that John Egan was the forgotten player of the team that I played with. He was. But then remember you had Sean Walsh. He was a Sean Purcell, he played full back, centre back, centre field, centre forward and full forward in championship football. It takes some footballer to do that. Now, he was an exceptional player, a great player. Paudi Lynch was a great player also, and Pat Spillane, magnificent!

"I would have to say, when he is up for it, and when he is in good form, Dara O Se is a great player."

O Se's litany of great players, he pointed out, left out some obvious names like Jack O Shea, Ogie Moran, Mikey Sheehy, Sean Murphy, Bomber Liston and many others whom he felt had received plenty of accolades over the years, but he was keen to bring to attention some footballers whom he felt might have been somewhatoverlooked.

Asked about players from other counties, O Se said: "I admire Peter Canavan, I thought he was great. Maybe not so much this year but in the past, I thought he was very brave for his height. You'd see him squaring up to Australians. Darren Fay of Meath, that's another player that I really admire. I admire Billy Morgan, the Cork goalie. I admire Mickey Kerins of Sligo, David Hickey of Dublin, who I marked myself. They were great players. Matt Connor of Offaly was another great player."

But he rates Mick O'Connell the greatest of all time. He includes O'Connell with Mohammed Ali, the Pope and CJ Haughey in his pantheon of all-time heroes.

When I was with him by the poolside, O Se took a call from the Minister of Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O'Donoghue, telling him that a ?192,000 grant had been given to his own club, the Gaeltacht. O Se was elated and immediately was in mobile phone contact with the West Kerry County Board chairman, Derry Murphy, and Radio na Gaeltachta's Michael O Se, to tell them the good news. The joy of the news produced from Paidi a few moments of reminiscences.

"In 1984 I took over the West Kerry team. We got married that year, March 10. It was around that time as well we were renting Kruger Kavanagh's in Dunquin. Maire was teaching in Colaiste Ide and I was about to set up a new career for myself in building a pub in Ventry. I had been a Garda before that."

"I was asked to train the West Kerry team and my good and loyal friend Derry Murphy, now chairman of the West Kerry Board, and John L O'Sullivan, from Lispole, the then chairman of the West Kerry Board, approached me. West Kerry hadn't won a County Championship since 1948.

"I took West Kerry over. I was dealing with five clubs, getting the razzmatazz going, and getting a bit of spirit going, and winning that County Championship was very special for me."

But for Paidi O Se, the greatest memories are of Mick O'Connell.

"Mick O'Connell was a Maurice Fitzgerald. He would pull, if he had to, a white rabbit out of the hat. A south Kerry writer once described O'Connell and O'Dwyer as the 'princes of the pig skin'," herecalled.

The interview over, Paidi and Maire gathered themselves to head for the Havana Bar in Marbella, where a big GAA night had been organised by local businessman Jed O'Connor, from Churchill, County Kerry, and his wife Catherine, the prelude to a four-team Gaelic Football tournament in Marbella yesterday and today.

Paidi and Maire's eldest daughter Neasa, 15, is in transition year in the Presentation Convent in Dingle, headmastered by his great friend, Tom Crowley. Her younger sister Siun is sitting her Junior Certificate in the same school this year.

And Paidi Og is in the school that Paidi himself attended, Cill Mhic a Dhomnaigh, where the principal is his former desk pal, SeanO Cathain.

Maire still teaches in Colaiste Ide, between Ventry and Dingle. They have had a house in Marbella for over a year, a haven where Paidi and Maire can escape from a life of pressure at home. And, here in Spain, his next-door neighbour is no stranger to pressure himself, former EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn.

"Good luck to you, Paidi," he shouted as the Kerry hero headed out the gate to be Guest of Honour at the local GAA function. Paidi's reply, given to him by his good friend Hugh O Flaherty, was a word beloved of Boris Yeltsin.

"Bybatet!" the Ventry warlord shouted back: "It means, 'These things happen'."

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