Thursday 22 June 2017

'How could any man be okay after being told facts of life by his Uncle Paidi'

Darragh O Se was four. He was with his dad Mick and they were walking past McKenna's Corner in Listowel. I called my father to the window of the pub.

"Who does Mick's young lad remind of you of Dad?"

"He has the 'gache' of Paidi," he said in an instant.

And we got a fierce fit of laughing. Then Dad said: "Look at him, look at him. He's like he was marching behind the Artane Boys Band."

Thirty years later we wished Darragh the best on his retirement and then asked how he was bearing up.

There was a boyish lilt in his voice. Relief almost. It was as if he tossed the satchel off his back for the last time on the day exams finished. It can't have been easy carrying a county"s expectations on your shoulders for 13 years.

"How could I be alright?" he laughs.

"How could any man be okay after being told the facts of life by his Uncle Paidi?"

Jokes

He doesn't give away too much. Jokes hide what's going on inside.

When he came on the scene Darragh was conscious of the fact that Uncle Pa, as he calls him, was his manager. The 19-year-old midfielder knew a losing Kerry coach had the longevity of a mayfly.

There were some who said Darragh was only on the team because he was the manager's nephew. Pressure already -- and more when Mayo beat us well in 1996. Paidi knew his man, though. After all he trained him for Croke Park from the time he was kicking off the blankets in his cot.

Darragh didn't say too much at the team meetings that year. It was like being the teacher's son. You didn't put your hand up for fear of embarrassing the both of ye.

Jack O'Connor said it was Darragh's lack of fear that inspired his team-mates more than anything else, but he had his worries before the '97 final. Darragh cut loose. He went from a boy to a man and conquered his inner doubts.

The young O Se was a graduate of the St Brendan's College school of Gaelic football where the emphasis was on skill and sportsmanship. You never hit an opponent. Football beat them, but Darragh was targeted.

If you stopped Darragh O Se, you stopped Kerry.

Bit by bit, he became more belligerent. If you wanted to play football -- fine --but if you didn't, that was fine too.

Some complain about his physicality, but ye who knock him now made him what he is. For years Kerry players were given no protection from the officials. What did ye expect us to do? Sit back and take it?

The players understand him. Nicholas Murphy is a friend. Darragh and Ciaran Whelan had some savage battles, but O Se felt for his pal when he retired without an All-Ireland medal.

Whelan often matched him, as did Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh and the underrated Murphy on occasion, but none lasted longer or won more.

O Se's home is at the foot of Sliabh an Iolar, Mount Eagle.

It's a place to see while you're still able for the climb. There's a marsupial lake half way up a mountain that changes colour and shade with every passing cloud. Rest there for a while.

Listen to the music of the silence and baptise the soles of your shoes in the gently lapping waters.

The view from the top looks back west out over Ballyferriter and to the Blaskets, with the Sceilig a day's rowing to the south west.

This was the shortcut the islanders took on their way to Dingle. For many, it was their last sight of home. Their hearts must have been broken.

To understand the O Ses, you must go to this place. They love where they come from and they speak a language more expressive and beautiful than any. It is a land and a culture worth fighting for. Football is one of the sources of that fierce pride.

Darragh is a Listowel man too and he came to coach our U-10s. Publicly he only shows what's going on in his inner sanctum when he's with the kids.

"Darragh," confided a small boy in a whisper short of a tear, "I'm only a sub."

Darragh went down on his heels. "Don't mind that," he said gently. "I couldn't get on the Gaeltacht under-age teams. Play away and keep at it. Don't give up." There was a few more minutes of chat. And then they had a few kicks.

He's very much himself at home with the lovely Amy and their little baby, but I think he'll miss the banter at training and the challenge of the big days out.

Comeback

Yesterday we met with Ger Power in Tralee -- he still looks like he could play in a boy band. Darragh pulled over. "Powery, I"m thinking of making a comeback."

Powery laughs.

An impatient taxi man beeps.

Two young lads shout: "Hey boy, that's Darragh O Se you're beepin' at."

Darragh drives on.

One of the young lads nods towards Powery, who, in an instant, is half-way up Castle Street, "whose your man?" he asks. "I kind of know him."

"Ger Power", I reply, annoyed. "He only won eight Sams".

That's Kerry. There are many greats and far more saints than Pattern Days. Retirement isn't easy. Some 13 years of a footballing life is over and for good. Football, rightly, is all about the here and now.

Then again Darragh never took himself too seriously.

It was this night last week at the St Michael's College 130th celebrations here in Listowel. Eric Browne, Owen and Bryan McMahon were picking their greatest team of all time.

"Did you make it?" I asked Darragh.

"Just about."

"Are you coming back into the function room?"

He rubs under his jaw with the back of his hand as if he's giving the invitation serious thought.

"No. I think I'll stay for a while longer. I'm afraid if I get outa here, I'll be dropped."

No fear of that, Darragh. You're on for good.

Irish Independent

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