A PHONE call last Thursday informed me of the death that morning of my great friend and former Kerry team mate Pat Ahern.
It left me with a heavy heart and great sadness because Pat was a special person as you will gather from this little tribute so richly deserved. We had played minor, U-21 and junior football together for the county and opposed each other in the county final of 1965 when East Kerry beat Mid Kerry following two titanic battles.
I had been fortunate to be involved in a most deserved celebratory occasion in April 2005 in Newcastlewest and the man who was the focus of a 'This is your Life' style event was Pat Ahern, a man who had given magnificent service to Kerry as a footballer and had worn the green and gold with great distinction in championship at minor, junior, U-21 and senior level. Representing Kerry at all four grades is always a remarkable achievement, which well and truly copperfastens the true worth of any footballer.
Pat Ahern had been resident in that lovely Limerick town for many years and had only been retired as manager of the Bank of Ireland branch there when serious illness struck him down as retirement stretched before him. Pat suffered a stroke and was wheelchair bound, which greatly impeded his total movement. Nevertheless, it is in adversity that he exuded all the great qualities he displayed as a player with club, division and county.
Great courage, a neversay-die attitude and an endearing cavalier attitude to life in general. Despite great health problems he was a tonic to meet and I can safely say that one came away following a meeting with Pat greatly enriched and questioning one's own preoccupation with minor problems.
It was a remarkable and poignant evening at that gathering in Pat's honour and the wonderful high esteem in which he was held was well and truly demonstrated as former friends and team mates travelled from far and wide.
Included were many legendary players like Tony Lyons, Declan Lovett, Teddy Bowler, Derry Crowley, Tom Prendergast, Tim Doyle, Jimmy Healy, Patsy Joy, Frank Russell, Brendan Lynch, Pat Griffin, Patsy O'Connor, Brian McCarthy, Tom Long and Billy Doran. Donie Sheehan, Gerry Savage, John Clifford, Fr. Kelly, RIP (Glenbeigh) were also there to honor Pat. As the late 'Bracker" Regan would say, a galaxy of stars paying heartfelt tribute to this unassuming, jovial and always exuberant Ballymac man.
Pat Ahern was born in Scart, Gortatlea, Ballymacelligott on June 13, 1942, one of a family of eight, four boys and four girls. His father was a farmer and early memories were of playing football morning, noon and night with the local neighbours. One of his brothers, Dan, went on to become one of Kerry's greatest ever cyclists. In fact, it is said that he was the greatest cyclist never to win the famed Ras Tailteann.
"I was always a great man to train," Pat told me during one of our many conversations.
"Dan and I would be up at six o'clock in the morning to bring in the cows for milking. Before this was done Dan would go off on a 80-mile cycle and I would do laps of the field until he came back. I did a lot of sprinting, which stood to me later and I won a lot at the sports meetings around the county every Sunday. Indeed we would cycle to all those meetings. 100, 200, and 440 yards were my strong points."
He had three years on the St Brendan's Killarney school senior team and he also spent time in Tralee CBS.
Now one of the outstanding young players in the county, he was quickly spotted and selected on the Kerry minors in 1959. Defeat was his lot by Cork in the Munster final in Killarney.
"I injured my shoulder weeks before the game, my father had some stuff for rubbing into the cows to prevent mastitis and I would rub that into my shoulder every day and it did the trick, I played."
Indeed, as the goalkeeper on that team of 1959 I can vouch that Pat played a blinder at wing-back and was the star of the side. He played Kerry Junior the following Sunday. Later taking up a position in the Bank of Ireland he was posted to Killorglin where he joined Laune Rangers and with whom he won seven mid Kerry championships, The Kerryman Shield and Towns Cup.
He quickly caught the eye of the Kerry senior selectors, and following three trips to play in Wembley Stadium, National League and tournaments games all around the country Pat was now playing his best football, and in 1962 he was a regular member of the panel.
Kerry played and beat Roscommon in that year's All Ireland final. He was handed the number 20 jersey, but when the medals were given out he was ignored.
"I was bitterly disappointed," he recalled years later.
"Another player who had played in the semi-final and was not available for the final was presented with the medal. I received an unofficial All Ireland medal inscribed with the words ' In appreciation for services rendered from Kerry County Board'."
He played National League for Kerry from 1962 to 1968 helping the county to League honors in 1963. Down were put to the sword in the semi-final and New York were defeated 118 to 1-10 in the final and he played one championship game for the Kingdom.
1967 was momentous year for the son of the Gortatlea farmer as he captained a star studded Mid Kerry team to county championship victory. Later that same year I was by his side as he led Kerry to the All Ireland Junior title in London. Then resident in Limerick he played for three years with the county senior side while he played and trained Newcastlewest to divisional victories.
In February 2006 Pat published his book "Me and My Shadow", a story of growing up in Kerry and his days spent at St Brendan's College, Killarney.
Pat was married to Mary Healy from west Kerry, they have three children, Micheal, Muireann, and Patrica, and to them and all his extended family we offer our very deepest sympathies.