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Friday 25 July 2014

Páidí: The heart and soul of Kerry

Weeshie

Published 19/12/2012|21:02

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Credit: Photo: Sportsfile

WEESHIE Fogarty recalls his favourite memories of the late, great Páidi Ó Sé.

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The name alone invokes a multitude of wonderful memories. He has been part and parcel of my life in many ways for over forty years since I first laid eyes on him.

Even now peering back through the midsts of time I can see still picture him as a young slip of a lad from that very first day. It was the very early seventies, I was on one of my daily runs accompanied by my little terrier dog Rex.

The scene was the National Park Killarney and a massive expansive field known as The Half Moon was my training venue. St Brendan's College had use of an area of the field as a playing pitch and it was there the schools teams did their training. It was a cold March Wednesday afternoon about four o clock as I jogged my way around the perimeter of this vast area and then as if out of nowhere a football was belted over the entrance gate out into the middle of the field and haring after came this young footballer all on his own.

I stopped and watched him in the distance as he raced after the ball bucking and jumping as it were, he chipped it up while still in full flight kicked it high into the air and again raced after it fielding it high over his head as it dropped from the sky. This process continued up and down the pitch and I watched fascinated and marveled at the sheer dedication, kicking, sprinting and fielding, high over his head and then the catching tightly into his chest.

My curiosity eventually got the better of me and I approached him, still no sign of any other players appearing.

"So where are you from yourself," I asked him.

"Páidí Ó Sé from back west," he replied and we then proceeded to talk about the Seminary, his upcoming match in the Munster Colleges and he expressed his ambition to play with Kerry some day.

What really struck me about Páidí was his superb fitness and even away back then his straight forward, no nonsense way of speaking. Just as you might spot other young budding Kerry stars in the making I was convinced he would be heard of well into the future and I at once began to follow his schools career, he had first been with Dingle CBS then with St Brendan's and later with St Michael's College Listowel.

And as history records he certainly surpassed all my expectations. He won four Kerry Colleges O'Sullivan Cups and Munster Cups with both Brendans and Listowel. And, of course, he then went on to win every honour at underage and senior with his beloved Kerry.

However, for me the Páidí Ó Sé I loved best was the man far away from the maddening crowds, far away from the thousands of spectators he thrilled along the way as he won his eight senior All Ireland medals. For me his true greatness was simply his personality. He personified all that is great and good in the Gaelic Athletic Association; he was the ultimate ambassador for the game as he traversed the country both in his political and sporting life.

He was one of those people you could not refuse when asked for a favour and each year as he prepared for the launch of his football weekend back west he would send out his list of invitations and having had the privilege of attending many of those events in Dublin one thing struck me greatly: the vast amount of people from all different walks of life that attended those launches were attracted there not by Páidí Ó Sé the footballer, but by the sheer magnetism of his wonderful personality.

People attended from far and wide and that February tournament was always launched by the Taoiseach of the day irrespective of whatever political affiliation he was part of. And indeed when I recently spoke to Páidí as he attended the launch of my own book in Killarney he remarked that Enda Kenny was booked to begin the 2013 tournament as always getting across the message he added, "make sure you are there Weeshie".

A few days before his death I received a beautiful two page hand written letter from Páidí thanking me for the invitation and how he had enjoyed the evening. The last I saw of him that night was as always surrounded by admirers deep in conversation laughing and joking. Ever the essence of courtesy, geniality and time to spare for one and all. That is the man I will forever cherish in my memory.

He had a tremendous love for his home place and, indeed, it is said that a man's character is defined by their place of birth and this was abundantly clear when one remembers Páidí Ó Sé.

The magnificent beautiful wild spectacular landscape where he grew up, sported and played seemed to define and shape his thinking, and his very character. Páidí Ó Sé was a living legend, a term one could use for just a handful of Kerry greats.

To concede just one point (and that was punched over the bar) to all those great players he opposed as he won his eight All Irelands is one of the most amazing records in the GAA. Very simply this one fact makes a very clear statement. Páidí was one of the greatest defenders the game has ever seen.

This record will never ever be equaled.

For his wife Maire and children Neasa, Siun and Padraig Óg his death is a terrible cross to bear, but they will be sustained in their knowledge that the man they loved and cherished so much was one of the most courteous, giving, gentle and thoughtful persons ever to have been associated with Gaelic football.

It has been made abundantly clear since his sudden death that he was, in my opinion, the most loved and revered Kerry footballer ever inside and outside this county and without a shadow of doubt was, in my opinion, a man who loved his county more that anyone I have known.

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