Sunday 28 December 2014

His written words were never ordinary – much like the man himself

Published 16/12/2012 | 17:00

As a boy I used to man the scoreboard in Pearse Park in Longford. On one occasion when I was 11, Kerry came to town and got a real shock, having to spring the Bomber Liston from the bench in the second half to win.

Páidí ó Sé got a bit of a roasting that day from a good footballer called Mickey O'Hara, who was similar in stature to Páidí and had a similar football brain.

Over 25 years later, I was sitting in Páidí's pub in Ventry one night after another successful Comórtas Peil Páidí ó Sé tournament. We were gathered around the fire with Páidí, former Kerry footballer Killian Byrnes and Sunday Independent photographer David Conachy and there were plenty of stories being told. Páidí had a pot of tea in front of him and he sat back and listened as the stories flowed.

I started to tell that story about Longford and Kerry and he remembered Mickey O'Hara's name immediately; he remembered almost every detail in the game, the frees he lost, the scores he won, the balls that he went for that he was beaten to by Mickey O'Hara.

From Kerry's point of view this was a meaningless league game, but for Longford it was a big deal, having the mighty Kerry in town. For Páidí to recall so clearly minute details of a game of this nature over 25 years earlier showed the football brain that he had.

Every single thing he did on the football pitch had meaning and purpose and he remembered it and used it throughout his playing days and on into his managerial career.

Having this extraordinary ability to retain information was also an asset to him then when he became a newspaper columnist. I always thought I understood Gaelic football. It wasn't until I got to know Páidí ó Sé in the last six years that I realised I never really understood Gaelic football at all. No one I can think of understood the game the way Páidí did, so completely, so totally.

He knew what it took in any situation to get a result, he could get the best out of people, he had a feeling for talent and he could nurture this talent. And Páidí had a way about him when it came to people; he knew how to get a group of lads to believe in him as a player, leader and a manager. He could be many things to many people. The array of individuals, from politicians to pop stars, who could be found at the launch of his annual Comórtas Peil was a testament to this.

Páidí's knowledge of the game was deep and by this I don't mean that he could recall who played midfield for Galway in the 1956 All-Ireland final, which of course he could as well. It wasn't just that, because he could tell you from listening to the radio why that game had been won and why it had been lost. He understood this right from the start

He also understood the level of fitness that was required, he understood the level of dedication that was required and again all of this was brought into his managerial realm.

When he used to talk to me about his column, in the early days I'd have my doubts about a memory he'd have from listening to a match on the radio or an early television game or even from having made the long journey from Ventry for a game in Dublin. The memory was called upon to support a point he wanted to make. I'd always check what he said and he was always right. His memory for the little details was incredible.

This is what he brought as a columnist. Páidí was never ordinary and his column was never ordinary, it could be predictable but it always had the unexpected too. Páidí had written his column for the Sunday Independent for the last six years, in the early days he worked a lot on it with Aengus Fanning and the unique blend of these two great Kerrymen combining into print always produced memorable copy, in a way twin halves of the sphere. It was never just a mundane preview of that day's big game.

It was a drawn-out process over the week involving many conversations which would finally produce a column. There was always time at the end of the week for a quick phone call for a fógra, sympathies to one family or congratulations to another.

But my favourite part of the Páidí experience was the yarns he'd share that could never be printed. He was a born story teller but he always finished with a laugh that made you wonder if he was having you on.

Now we mourn for Páidí. His loss is great, and he will be missed on these pages.

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