President leads tributes as football 'genius' laid to rest
Published 03/01/2013 | 05:00
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins described a local football hero as a "genius with his footwork" and said he was "privileged to know him".
Mr Higgins joined hundreds of mourners in Galway for the funeral Mass of former Galway United player Tommy Keane and sympathised with Mr Keane's partner, Paula O'Flaherty, and his son Tommy Jnr.
Mr Higgins was one of hundreds of mourners who attended the funeral Mass for Mr Keane (44) at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Galway.
The former player died suddenly last Friday after collapsing on a Galway street shortly after playing a charity soccer tournament.
Monsignor Malachy Hallinan told the congregation how it was Paula, his partner of 30 years, who had been with him at the end, adding that Mr Keane's last word was to speak her name.
"You were the first to reach him, it was nobody else. It was to you he said his last word 'Paula' which meant the love he had for you and all the love for Tommy Jnr was expressed in that word," he added.
Ms O'Flaherty told mourners how Mr Keane had loved his family and absolutely adored his mother Pat.
Describing him as "a truly amazing person", she added: "Most of all I want to thank Tommy for bringing us so much love and energy in his short life. Thank you, Tommy, we will love and miss you forever."
The congregation heard that Mr Keane had two great loves in his life, his family and soccer. Among the gifts brought to the altar were letters he had written to his partner while he was in the UK playing with Bourne-mouth and Colchester United, family photos and memorabilia from his footballing career.
The congregation heard how he had been thrilled when his nephew, Eric O'Flaherty, represented Ireland on the Paralympic team at the World Championships in Holland.
Also present were FAI president Paddy McCaul and League of Ireland chairman Eamon Naughton. A large number of Mr Keane's former Galway United teammates also attended.
Speaking after the funeral, Mr Higgins said: "When Tommy came back there was an enormous excitement in Galway because he was one of the most exciting players that Galway had ever produced.
"I had the greatest respect for his father and mother, I often called to their house in my different political activities and they are a warm family, a very close family and I so sympathise with Paula because Tommy and herself are partners since they were children.
"At least I'm delighted that young Tommy, their son is there and that will be a great consolation for them."
Mr Keane was laid to rest at Rahoon Cemetery.