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Farewell to the greatest football brain of all time

ABUNCH of us walked home from school with Paidi every evening. Just to listen to him. He was full of fun, taispeach and scheming. And he was dying to win an All-Ireland.

I was an innocent 16, Paidi was 19, and I believed all the yarns – at the start. He was always winding us up.

There was the one about the Dutch lesbians who fought like tigresses because they couldn't agree which one would go with him to the Ceili Mor. The oul fella was behind the bar that evening and I threw my bag clean over the counter in a temper. "Dad, I'm getting out of his town. I've no life. No life at all!"

We won every game that year.

It was holy water and holy medals and lucky underpants and not sitting next to redheads in the dressing room. His speech sent one of our lads waking into a door. Out on the field he started bucklepping and telling the lads to drive in and he used to puck himself in the chest like a gorilla.

The other teams thought he was stone mad. But it was all a plan. He was always in control. You couldn't best him. He was a bull and a greyhound at the same time. The best football brain ever.

That man was ruthless too. If you were between Paidi and the ball, it was your tough luck. He made foes into friends, and the lads he fought the hardest with were the best pals of all.

Eight All-Irelands won and he hardly ever mentioned a minute of any of them. Paidi was far too busy figuring out today.

His pub was a place where we went for a break, but looking back on it now there was never a break for Paidi. He was always on call. It wasn't easy, and people expected him to perform on demand.

He had his retreats. There was the secret garden at the back of the house where he taught his nephews and his son how to play football. There was the room with blinds where he did his video analysis and watched cowboy pictures.

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He loved to run and walk on Ventry beach. The certainty of the waves and the coming and going of the tides grounded him. Maybe he'd climb Sliabh an Iolar. From the top of his own mountain he could see the everlasting beauty of his home places. There was thinking done too, about football and life. Maybe he did too much thinking at times. That brilliant mind never stopped.

Paidi was stone mad about Maire and the kids. There were times too when he overdid the socialising and it ate him up, but they knew him and still loved him.

It was very late last night and we were trying to make sense out of it all.

"Uncle Pa was a very nice man, wasn't he?" said Dara.

For PO would always give you a lift when you were down.

"Is it true he was seen in a garden centre?" I asked Dara.

"True. The next thing is he'll be taking up crochet."

WE SPOKE of '97 when Uncle Pa managed Kerry to the most important win in all of our history. I was one of his helpers, in a small way. I witnessed how he changed boys overwhelmed by history into the strongest of men. We won Sam, after 11 years, and but for Paidi it could have been 20. He saved Kerry.

The Paidi O Se football tournament will be held in Ventry next February. He has 48 teams coming to the edge of the world from all over the world. When Paidi put his mind to a task, there was no better man to get things done.

Paidi was never happier. He didn't bother with a drink for a while. He had it all figured out in the end. Home was where he loved best and where he was loved best. Paidi died in his own bed.

I'll be saying goodbye to my old friend later today. Say a prayer we'll be able for it. You feel he's going to bust out with an O'Neill's in his grip and smash the coffin into cipins.

I never thought for a second all those years ago when we talked our way home from St Michael's that some day I'd be writing this piece. It's so hard to do.

I firmly believe he's here with us. He'd never go away for good from the family he loved so much. Not a hope.

So I won't bid you slan, Paidi, because I know for sure you're only a thought away.

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