12 Days of Kimmage: 'It took over our lives' - Tomás Ó Sé talks to Paul
Over the Christmas/New Year period we'll be looking back at some of Paul Kimmage's big interviews of 2015. Here's his sit-down with Kerry football legend Tomás Ó Sé
Published 01/01/2016 | 12:00
Part of a unique family dynasty in the GAA, it’s no surprise that football and the pursuit of honours have always been Tomás ó Sé’s twin obsessions
Paul Kimmage: Tomás, one of the more interesting things about your playing career — a thing that was incredibly frustrating for us — was your almost total refusal to engage with the media. This is how you explain it in the book: “What benefit would it be to me to reveal my real thoughts about a serious game, about serious opponents and their strengths and weaknesses?”
Tomás ó Sé: Well, what is the benefit of it? I don’t see it. How can it benefit the player to talk about himself before a game? I used to read articles about fellas I was playing against and I couldn’t figure it out.
PK: Why they had given an interview?
TóS: Yeah. I suppose a lot of it came from PO (Páidí). PO didn’t like you talking at all, at all. There were stories of journalists being invited down and he’d carry them to Dingle, and carry them to dinner, and carry them back to the pub and eventually he’d say, ‘Look, will you ask some other time.’ This was his attitude and he passed it on to us: the time to be in a paper was Monday morning.
PK: The match report?
PK: And you were the same?
TóS: I wouldn’t pick up calls and I wouldn’t pick up phones; I just wanted to focus totally on the game. And it was a thing we had between ourselves because if I saw Darragh in the paper I’d say: ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ And he’d be the same to me, so there was a bit of that at play as well. But I think it made us more interesting afterwards (laughs).
PK: It was certainly interesting to watch Tomás ó Sé — this almost recluse — turning up for The Sunday Game in a dicky bow!
PK: How do I square that?
TOS: Maybe it was just a ploy so people wouldn’t focus on what I was saying . . . No, the dicky bow is very simple: if you’re getting (free) suits from Pat Morley at Lapel and he says, ‘Wear a dicky bow’, you wear a dicky bow.
PK: Tell me about your new book.
TóS: Why did I write it?
TóS: A few things dropped into my lap when I retired: I was asked to do a column by the Indo (Irish Independent) and I was asked to The Sunday Game and I thought, ‘I’ll have a cut at this.’ If I was going to do a book, I was going to do it right and I met these guys (Gill & Macmillan) and told them what I wanted, and what I didn’t want.
PK: Paul Galvin told me a lovely story last year about your snoring.
TóS: Ah well, I snore away, I’ve no problem with that.
PK: It’s not in the book.
TóS: Is it not?
TOS: Jeeze! Half the stuff that’s in the book, and half the stuff that’s in the articles, I can’t tell what’s in what! It’s funny, I was on the phone to Darragh a week before last and he says: ‘C’mere, what’s inside that book?’ I said, ‘This is a fine time to be asking me when the thing is gone to print.’ He says, ‘C’mere now, there’d better be nothing bad about me!’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re alright.’ (Laughs)
* * * * *
1 The Sopranos
Darragh would have a bit of the rogue in him. You’d have to time your moments with Darragh. Tomás is different: what you see is what you get with Tomás. And Marc up to this last year would have lived in the shadow of the other two, but he’s blossomed. They are so close as a family that they come as a package deal. I knew they were hurting a bit when I came in, so I made certain to walk on eggshells around them.
– Jack O’Connor,
Keys to the Kingdom
PK: Tell me about the ó Sés: your father Míceál was born in London, the eldest of three boys.
TóS: My grandmother was from a huge family, the Lavins from Sligo. She met my grandfather and they married in London and Tom and my father were born there. They moved home to Ard A Bhóthair (Ventry) after my grandfather was involved in an accident and set up a grocery shop. All my memories of my grandfather are of visiting him in his bedroom above the shop but my grandmother was a grafter and basically spoiled the three boys. Every day, three grown men, they would still go over to her for soup and dinner.
PK: Did they all play football?
TóS: My father was a fine-day footballer and wouldn’t get stuck in. Tom was very good and won an All-Ireland minor with Kerry. But Páidí was the man when he came along.
PK: Your mother was a nurse?
TóS: (laughs) Yeah, I don’t know where we got her from. Her family, the Kavanaghs from Lispole, are contractors and developers and unbelievable grafters. And then you come to the ó Sés and if there was work in the bed they’d sleep on the ground.
PK: (laughs) You say that in the book.
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TóS: I could drive home tomorrow and she could be up a ladder painting the wall! She gets up at seven in the morning and its constantly go, go, go . . . We definitely didn’t pick up that gene (laughs).
PK: How did she meet your father?
TóS: She was working in England and was over and back and it was a kind of on-and-off thing but eventually they got married and settled in Listowel. My father had a great job, an agricultural advisor, and didn’t kill himself. But he loved Listowel.
PK: What did he love about it?
TóS: He had a great bunch of friends up there but I think my mom wanted to come home. Myself, Darragh and Fergal were born . . . well, we were born in Tralee . . . but we lived in Listowel. And when I was two we moved back to Ard A Bhóthair and Marc was born.
PK: I never realised there were four of you. Fergal was the first born?
PK: That must be hard, being the ó Sé nobody knows?
TóS: Very hard, and I’d be conscious of it, we’d be conscious of it, and I’d be annoyed if people treated him differently or in a dismissive way. He was a very good footballer but did his cruciate and never came back from it.
PK: What traits did you inherit from your parents? Who took after whom?
TóS: Did you ever see that scene in The Sopranos?
PK: Go on.
TóS: It’s hilarious. Tony is giving out about his mother and the fact that he picked up some gene from her . . . Sometimes I see my mother taking a pot out of the press and it won’t come out. The f**kin door of the press will come off quicker than the pot will come out and I look at her and think, ‘That’s where I got it from.’
TóS: I had a chat with Galvin about it one night. I said: ‘Do you know when you lose it? It’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? In those couple of seconds you could actually do anything.’ And we had a bit of a laugh. Galvin, in fairness, controlled it a lot more than I did because he got a lot more abuse, but I couldn’t. Even to this day I can’t. I wouldn’t initiate anything but if a fella came at me . . .
PK: You’d lose it?
TóS: And my mother would definitely have that. My father didn’t have it. I remember I lost the head in the garden one day and he says, ‘Jesus Christ! What ails ye?’ I’d never heard anybody saying that before, ‘What ails ye?’, and because I thought it was funny, it actually calmed me down.
PK: What caused it?
TóS: I can’t remember. There were certain days I’d be crying with temper out in the garden and the harder I’d cry and the worse I got, the harder the boys would laugh at me.
PK: Teasing you?
TóS: Teasing me.
PK: What about your father’s character?
TóS: A lovely man.
PK: I have a sense he was softer than Páidí?
TOS: He was, possibly.
PK: Why possibly?
TóS: (laughs) Páidí was no normal human being so you would be better comparing him to somebody else! I mean, often we’d ask Páidí did he have a heart at all, it was like there was a chunk of wood inside him. Páidí based everything on football. He was like a big child around the place and he did what he wanted to do. Responsibility came easier to my father.
PK: He was the eldest, of course.
TóS: Yeah, and he enjoyed Páidí no matter. Tom was a different character but the three of them were tight. And the fact that we were living so close meant they were more than uncles to us. Páidí’s kids would be like my brothers and sisters. We’d see them every single day.
PK: When did you first sense Páidí was a star?
TóS: It would have been around ’85 and ’86 when the (Sam Maguire) Cup was coming back. I remember Ambrose (O’Donovan) coming back with the cup in ’84. I suppose that’s when I realised it.
PK: Your first time in Croke Park was with the minors in '96?
PK: Darragh wrote in his book that he had been there in ’82, '84, '85 and '86?
TóS: Yeah, it f**kin galled me. Myself and Marc were always left at home
PK: You weren’t brought?
PK: Your father would have just brought Darragh?
TóS: The two eldest, Fergal and Darragh.
PK: What about other sports?
TóS: I suppose the only other sport that we had access to was soccer but I never really got into it. I used to get the Panini soccer albums and all that and loved watching Maradona, the Italian soccer used to be on Monday night, but other sports? Not really.
PK: What about other sportstars?
TóS: We had a (video) tape, ‘Kerry’s Golden Years’, they were our heroes, just the Kerry lads basically. And our biggest hero of all was PO, even though we would never have said it. We’d watch him training and he’d come over and watch the videos with us and it was unreal. He was like, ‘Jesus Christ! Watch this now!’ And he’d be breaking it down.
PK: You write in the book: “Once Darragh made it, my whole life revolved around making it too.” Is that what drove you?
TóS: I suppose a lot of things drove me . . . the area, the people in the area. There was only one topic of conversation and that was football. We’d learn about these old footballers and think, ‘Jesus Christ! I want a bit of that.’ And there was the fact that Páidí had gone through it. I’d go down to the beach and you’d have Tommy Doyle and himself and Ogie (Moran) running and training together and I’d just want to play with Kerry. I knew how important it was. And we had this constant drive at home, nothing was ever good enough. I could bring home an All-Ireland medal and another All-Ireland medal, but because of what your man (Páidí) had achieved there was always something more to aim at.
PK: What about the influence of your brothers? You describe some of the games you played as kids as “tussling like wild dogs”. Sounds competitive?
TóS: Well, it was. We’d play these games against the gable end of the house, three-and-in basically except it was Gaelic and first to 10 (points). Darragh was way stronger and used to annoy the shit out of me. He’d hit me a clip, knowing he’d get a reaction, and I’d start beating into him. Then he’d hold the ball off and start laughing and it used to drive me insane. The only way I could beat him was to go for goals but he’d kick points, he enjoyed a slow death.
PK: What about Marc?
TóS: Marc was smaller than us, so it was more me and Darragh than me and Marc, but we used to have fierce crack.
PK: Which of them are you closest to?
TóS: I’d be on the phone daily to Darragh, and most of the time to Marc but the way I’d base it is this: there is nothing I would hold back from any of them.
PK: What about your characters? How are you different?
TóS: They all say Marc and Darragh are similar, and that myself and Fergal are similar but I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. Darragh wrote in his book about a trip we made from Limerick to Ventry . . .
PK: Yes, I was going to ask about that: Tomás never speaks when there isn’t a reason to. One time, I collected him in Limerick when he was in college and the two of us drove all the way out past Dingle and beyond. He didn’t open his mouth for the entire trip until we were nearly home.
TóS: I didn’t, but it was a comfortable silence. I used to room with (Eamonn) Fitzmaurice and I used to room with Galvin, and always felt I had to say something or keep the chat going. When I roomed with Darragh I could be myself and often that meant being quiet, but that’s just the way I am.
PK: This is what you say about Darragh: If he shot someone outside the door he’d just come in and sit down and say to you, ‘Look, life’s too short to be worrying about that, so I’m not going to let it get me down.’
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TóS: (laughs) Darragh would be upbeat about most things — whenever I need a pick-me-up or anything I’ll ring him. He always looks at life positively: it doesn’t matter if things are going bad for him, he’ll just drive on and keep going. The glass is always half-full.
PK: You lost an All-Ireland with the minors in ’96. Talk to me about your transition to the senior team?
TóS: I was doing my Leaving Cert (in 1997) and Páidí (then manager) started picking at me in the bar, he says: ‘I want to bring you in.’ I said, ‘Ah, will you go away!’ He says, ‘I swear to God I’m bringing you in.’
PK: And this is what you want to hear?
TóS: Oh yeah, I wanted to go in but dad would say, ‘Ahh, he’s only pulling your leg that fella, leave it off.’ And I’d go over and your man would be picking at me again, ‘I’m going to bring you in’, and I said: ‘Well go over so and say it to my parents.’ Now Páidí would probably have been half-afraid of dad, and my mother probably more: ‘Leave him do his Leaving Cert.’ But the day I got my results I went in for a trial . . . I didn’t care about the results.
PK: You made the squad for the final that year against Mayo.
TóS: Yeah, the way they worked it was . . . 21 medals were given out and I was number 24 on the day. The only way I was going to get a medal was if I played, and I knew I wouldn’t be playing, but the experience of being there was enough. I won’t say I felt comfortable but I wasn’t bothered with the same nerves and could just sit back and watch what was happening: the team talks beforehand, the dressing room at half-time, and it was brilliant. I’d say I learnt more in ’97 and ’98 than I did the rest of my career in terms of preparing for games.
PK: ’98 was your first time to play for Kerry?
PK: How big was that?
TóS: It was huge. I was doing well and knew I was close enough but I remember that night sitting in the car . . . We used to travel to training with Páidí and Jack Ferriter and Dara ó Cinnéide and everybody had gone home and we’re waiting for your man and he’s inside with the boys picking the team. He comes out in good form and I don’t want to ask but 10 minutes into the drive he says, ‘You’re in. Corner-back.’ We were playing in Killarney — a full house — and Cork were gunning for us. It was a cauldron, really tough, and I was suffering from my nerves. I came off and showed my togs to Liam Flaherty and he started laughing: “F**k me!” There was a shit stain down the back of them!
PK: That bad?
TóS: I couldn’t sleep properly, I couldn’t eat properly; the game just passed me by and I was taken off at half-time. I took it terribly. I was actually fuckin’ depressed after it, but I’m delighted it happened so early in my career because of what I learnt.
PK: It sounds like you were obsessed with this game?
TOS: Yeah, crazily.
PK: Was it unhealthy?
TóS: Possibly, yeah.
PK: Elements of it?
TóS: Yeah, definitely. People don’t understand . . . like, when my dad died we trained that day. The day he was buried we trained! There’s that saying . . . was it (Bill) Shankly?
PK: Football is not life and death it’s more serious than that?
TóS: That’s it. Páidí would joke about a lot of things but he wouldn’t joke about football. He (left) the guards because it wasn’t suiting his football. He took over the running of the pub but wasn’t interested in making a profit because of football. He didn’t care about his career or his future in terms of work. Just football. And I was the same. We were all the same. If they had asked me to drive to Donegal to train, I’d have driven to Donegal. If I had a bad training session, it would gut me out for two or three days. It took over our lives and we were there for 17 years.
PK: You won your first All-Ireland in 2000 against Galway? What did it mean to you?
TóS: When we won that All-Ireland, I think the Hogan was being built and the top deck wasn’t there, it was the lower deck I think, and we had the Cup on the field and that was special. I think what made it more special was that there had been a draw in the semi-final and a draw in the final and Seamus (Moynihan) was captain. I remember him inside in the dressing room: ‘We don’t care how long we have to stay up here. We’ll stay until we win the bloody thing.’ But a great day. I had (experienced it) in ’97 but it was great to have a medal because, rightly or wrongly, that’s how you’re measured in Kerry.
PK: Was your father there?
TóS: He was, yeah. I didn’t see him until very late in the night. He didn’t go to the dinner, even though he was entitled to, but we met him later on and it wasn’t a big hug, just a shake of the hand. He was proud as punch but he wouldn’t let it show.
PK: Why didn’t he go to the dinner?
TóS: It’s not that he was shy but I think he’d rather a quiet pint than hullaballoo.
PK: He wasn’t a man for the limelight?
PK: So very unlike his brother?
TO’S: Very, very unlike. They wouldn’t fit in the same sentence.
TóS: Having said that, they got on. It was one of these (strange) dynamics but the limelight wouldn’t be his cup of tea at all.
* * * * *
2 The CRYING GAME
When we played Cork in Killarney in 2002 my father was there, and I’d say it was the only time he saw myself, Darragh and Marc play together for Kerry. Fergal, my other brother, said he was unbelievably nervous watching it, fidgeting and moving around in the stand. We drew that game, the replay fixed for a couple of weeks later in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. A couple of days after the drawn game I was talking to my father on the phone, a great chat about the game and how it went. Little did I know it was the last time I’d speak to him.
– Tomás ó Sé,
The White Heat
PK: The Cork game in 2002 was the first, and last, time your father would watch the three of you play together?
TóS: Yeah, Marc was playing cornerback, I was wing-back, and Darragh was midfield . . . A wet, dirty day over in Killarney. There was a big hullabaloo about the replay after he died but we couldn’t give two shites whether it was the Saturday or the Sunday of the following weekend.
PK: The first game in Killarney was on the Sunday?
PK: And he died on the Tuesday?
PK: You got a phone call?
TóS: I got a call at work. It was my first year (teaching) and I was inside in class (Gaelscoil de híde in Fermoy) and my boss, Seán MacGearailt, called me out to take a call from Mícheál ó Sé, the commentator:
– Your dad is sick.
– He’s gone in the ambulance.
– Right . . . what’s wrong with him?
– What’s wrong with him, Mícheál?
– Is he dead?
– Just come home, fast.
I hung up and rang Marc. ‘Is he gone?’ He said, ‘He is, yeah.’ And that was it, I drove straight home.
PK: Why would Mícheál ó Sé call you?
TóS: I don’t know.
PK: Where were your brothers?
TóS: I dunno. Darragh could have been inside in Tralee. Marc was at home I’d say, and Fergal would have been home. He teaches 10 miles back the road.
PK: Why wouldn’t your brothers have called you?
TóS: I’d say they were looking after my mother or something, and in fairness Mícheál is one of our greatest supporters, a brilliant man. He’s soft. I could hear it in his voice.
PK: Where did your father die?
TóS: He was in the kitchen helping my mother. My mother had students, she kept students. He had a heart attack.
PK: How old was he?
TóS: Yeah, and a fresh enough sixty.
PK: You drove home?
PK: How hard was that?
TóS: It was hard enough because it was on Raidió Na Gaeltachta and I was upset. It bothered me for a good few months afterwards, just the natural cycle or whatever, but it was hard. I didn’t open up at all and wouldn’t speak about it at the time but look, everybody goes through it. It just happened to fall between two Munster finals and there was a lot of talk about us playing but it wouldn’t have mattered if the game was the following day, we would have played.
PK: You would?
TóS: Yeah, because the day he was buried, which was the Thursday, we trained that evening. It was a kind of a chance to get a break.
PK: A release?
TóS: Yeah, I’ll always remember it because we were driving over to Killarney and, I’ve never heard it since, but the Fureys song ‘My Old Man’ came on and Darragh says, ‘You cannot be f**king serious!’
PK: The three of you were in the car?
PK: Did you hold it together?
TóS: We started laughing, humour got us through a lot of it.
PK: When did the grief kick in?
TóS: It’s not that you wouldn’t have been thinking about it, you’d have been thinking about it a lot, but you’re in this bubble playing with Kerry and then the bubble bursts. We lost the All-Ireland (to Armagh) and it just hit home a bit more. Darragh had a very good relationship with my dad and when he died I thought, ‘F**k it! I wish I’d known him more.’ I’m very open with my kids. I can say, ‘I love you’ and they will say it back and it’s the norm. That wasn’t the norm when I was growing up and when my dad died I regretted it.
PK: Páidí died at 57.
PK: How did the shock compare to losing your father?
TóS: It was very hard to take because nobody expected it, and very similar to my dad, he came down that morning and was feeling something. He took a tablet and went back to bed and . . . Bang!
PK: Would he not have got checked after your dad?
TóS: He got checked and was told he should have a stent but a buddy of his, John Egan, had had a stent and died and Páidí had got it into his head: ‘F**k the stent!” But you couldn’t believe a word that came out of his mouth:
– Did you go the doctor Páidí?
– Did you get the okay?
– He told me I was as fit as a fiddle!
Now he possibly did get the all-clear but he was advised to get the stent and he wouldn’t and look, whether that would have made any difference I don’t know, who’s to tell? We found out he had a heart anyway!
TóS: But he was a huge loss. We lost our father and you never go back to the same house. Where we live you have our house, the shop, the pub, the church and my grandmother’s house and that’s it. And you took him out of it and . . .
PK: You’re obsessive about football.
PK: Is it addictive?
TóS: (exhales) I don’t know, it probably is, but we don’t know any different.
PK: You do when it stops.
TóS: Yeah, and I find it hard since it stopped. I’m playing with Nemo now but . . . yeah, there’s certain things that you’d enjoy.
PK: Did Páidí find it hard?
TóS: I’d say he did, yeah. I never spoke to him about it. I never actually asked him, ‘Did you miss it when you left?’ He tried to come back a couple of times.
PK: Is that why he drank? To fill the void football had left?
TóS: I don’t know. Who’s to say? When he left Kerry (the manager’s job) there was a bit of hurt and madness there. He chased it with Westmeath and he chased it with Clare but he had it cracked before he died and wasn’t missing it any more. He loved music and had just copped Robbie Williams. I remember walking in and he was sitting on his own watching him (a DVD) performing live: ‘Jesus Christ!’ he said. ‘The energy of that man! He’s unreal!’ He was flying it, the business was flying it, and then just when he was starting to enjoy it he was gone.
PK: What did you enjoy? What gave you the biggest buzz from all that you achieved?
TóS: I think 2009, after that thing that happened with the Gooch. (On July 18, after a narrow win over Sligo during the third round of the Qualifiers in Tralee, ó Sé and Colm Cooper defied team orders and went drinking after the game.) The media were down on top of us, our own fellas were down on top of us and myself and the Gooch were nailed.
PK: For going drinking?
TóS: We were frustrated. We were working hard in training and it wasn’t going well and decided, ‘F**k it! We’ll go for a pint.’ We eventually turned the corner against the Dubs, and then we got motoring and beat Cork in the final and I got a great buzz out of that year. But I got a great buzz out of every year. The beauty for me was when you’d been away for four or five months and come back to the muck and the shit, I’d love that. I wouldn’t even be thinking of June or July. Then you’d work through the League and hopefully get to the League final. Then the Championship would start and you’d get to the top and an All-Ireland final and we were so lucky every year that we were there or thereabouts. I played in 10 or 11 All-Ireland finals!
PK: That is astonishing.
TóS: People don’t realise the strength of that group: Declan O’Sullivan, Seamus Moynihan, Liam Hassett doesn’t get enough credit, Darragh was there, Fitzmaurice, Gooch. There were so many leaders and strong characters.
PK: Tell me about the end and your decision to retire. This is how you explain it in the book: When we lost to Dublin in 2013 I didn’t say an emotional farewell to the dressing room. No tears. No taking some toilet roll as a souvenir. Tracksuit on, baseball cap down, and away I went.
TO’S: I was fully sure we would win that game. We were coming in as total underdogs and had cracked (Stephen) Cluxton and then Kevin McManamon came in and rattled it and we couldn’t turn it around. I had no plans to retire before the game. I thought we’d win and I’d be playing again in the final and I wanted to go out on a high; Seamus Moynihan went out on a high; Darragh went out on a high; but after the final whistle I kinda knew that was it. I took a couple of days and when I rang Fitzmaurice a week later he didn’t try to . . .
PK: Dissuade you?
TóS: Yeah, which kind of pissed me off.
PK: You don’t explain what you did after the game?
TóS: I’m nearly sure I drove straight back to Cork. I hated to be around supporters or anybody talking about the game, losing was f**kin awful. You’d remember the losses a lot more than the wins.
PK: You hated losing more than you loved winning?
TóS: Yeah, I think I did. Winning was easy to switch off from but losing
. . . Jeez! I used to dig and dig and dig and dig. I’ve never, ever watched a game we’ve lost but I could remember everything. It’s hard. And it was deflating the way we went down. There was a time when I’d have done anything to play but it just drained out of me.
PK: You wrote a great column before the All-Ireland last year about a dream you had that you were back on the Kerry panel.
PK: Do you have that dream often?
TóS: It’s not repetitive but I do dream that I’m still part of it and inside there. And (in the dream) I know that I shouldn’t be there but they don’t. The thing that’s killing me, and the reason I’ve found it hard to move on, is because all of my buddies are still there. When they’re gone it will be easier for me and I’ll enjoy going to games more. Because when they’re losing I’m feeling bad for them, and when they’re winning…
PK: You’re feeling bad for you?
PK: Were you surprised Paul Galvin came back?
TóS: I was, initially.
PK: Because his decision to retire, or rather the way he explained it, seemed to make sense?
TóS: Yeah, but maybe in hindsight there were things that were still grating on him. I get on very well with Paul but he’s a private person and I’d know not to ask him deep questions about that kind of stuff. And I wouldn’t answer if he asked me.
PK: Well I’m going to ask you because you spent a year out and started playing again with Nemo Rangers?
TóS: I spent a year out and didn’t kick a ball. I left my club (An Ghaeltacht) and had no plans to go back or join another club but then Kerry won the All-Ireland in 2014. There was a huge high around Kerry and it gave me a lift. I thought, ‘I want to go back training and play football again.’ I knew Stephen O’Brien and the lads down here (Nemo) very well and I gave him a shout but the body isn’t what it was. A big part of my game was getting up and down the field but I can’t do that now. I want to but I can’t. (laughs)
PK: Has it been worth it?
TóS: Ahh it has. I’m going to play in a county final in Cork (this afternoon) and that’s a buzz. I mean, everybody was saying, ‘Them Cork fellas will kill you,’ but there’s a great tradition of football in West Cork and I like their style of play: they’re fair, they’re hard, they’re honest. And I haven’t had one bit of grief since I came down.
PK: Tell me about your debut on The Sunday Game?
TóS: It was something I was really nervous about. I don’t get nervous any more but you really have to have your homework done. When I was playing with Kerry I was only ever interested in two teams: Kerry and whoever they were playing next. I would rarely watch matches on the box. I’d get butterflies and it brought out something in me I didn’t enjoy so I’d go for a walk or do something else. But now you have to know everything, you can’t . . .
PK: Bluff it?
TóS: You can’t bluff it. The game has become a lot more tactical than it was. Bluffers are spotted straight away but . . . look, I’m still on a learning curve inside but I’m enjoying it.
PK: Are there any pundits you admire or aspire to be?
TóS: I have great time for Kevin McStay, partly because the (first) night I was on he was really decent. We each get a choice of three pieces to pick from the game so it’s whoever puts his hand up first (gets the best). I was nervous, and Kevin knew it and he just said, ‘Pick whatever you want and I’ll go with whatever else’. And every night I’ve worked with him has gone well, a lovely, sound fella. I wish him the best in management and hope he does well.
PK: Anyone else?
TóS: I enjoy working with Ciarán Whelan, another fella who looks at it from a player’s perspective and wants to bring more than the normal analysis and . . . who else? Look, Brolly is Brolly. He says stuff that’s off the wall sometimes but I actually do think he can read the game well, it’s just . . . I don’t know what f**kin jellies he’s on.
PK: (laughs) What about Spillane, the Kerry icon who became this . . .
TóS: Shooting from the hip?
TóS: Look, in Kerry there’s no doubt Spillane is an absolute legend. Páidí used talk about Spillane and what a player he was and in fairness . . . I mean they talk about Shefflin and what he went through but what Spillane went through with his injuries was unbelievable. One of the greatest players that ever played the game. As a pundit? I don’t know. Is there a hint of saying things for the sake of being controversial or trying to stay relevant? I don’t know. I like O’Rourke. I’ve great time for O’Rourke.
PK: He’s measured?
TóS: Yeah, everything is measured. But sometimes Brolly comes out with stuff, and Spillane comes out with stuff, and I’ve great time for both of them but that wouldn’t be me. But I’m enjoying it, and I love writing up the articles for the Indo. The first year was easy in that everything was new but it is becoming more of a challenge but I enjoy analysing and trying to bring a touch that the journalist can’t bring.
PK: It shows that you’re enjoying it.
TóS: I am.
PK: And it’s been good getting to know you, stick around.
TóS: Well, a lot of doors have opened for me and I’m grateful. Football
has given me everything and a
confidence I don’t think I’d have had. So we’ll see where it goes. We’ll keep plugging.
The White Heat: My Autobiography by Tomas O’Se is published by Gill & Macmillan on Friday next priced at €22.99.
Sunday Indo Sport