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Sunday 18 February 2018

He made you proud to be from the Kingdom

'WHERE'RE you from?'

It was one of the first questions Paidi O Se used to ask visitors who came to his pub in Ventry from all around the world. Because where he was from meant the world to him.

One of the first videos I ever watched was 'Kerry's Golden Years'. It was the soundtrack to our childhood in Kerry. We used to sit in my Aunt Mary's sitting room in Ballyduff and watch in awe at the skill of these larger-than-life men. Their magic infiltrated our minds.

Beyond his talent, it was Paidi's ferocious love for the green and gold that caught you by the collar. It was down to people like Paidi that we had fierce pride in where we were from.

Paidi set in motion an attitude in sport long before Roy Keane made it fashion-able. He wasn't afraid of hard work, in fact he revelled in it. He got the message early in his life that you need to work hard if you're going to win – and winning All-Irelands was what he wanted.

Paidi took nothing for granted. My uncle Tom O'Riordan, an Olympian and former international athlete and reporter with this newspaper, was good friends with Paidi. He used to quiz Tom on his training regime and tips he gathered from his years in college and training in America. He tapped into it in an effort to make him a better footballer.

He loved the idea of sprinting up hills, pushing himself to the limit.

"He used to ask 'how hard did you push yourself?'," Tom said. "'I'd push myself to near exhaustion.' Paidi's eyes lit up. 'Would you?' Paidi replied."

One evening he brought Tom to a hill outside Ventry called Clasach which overlooks the Blasket Islands to the west and Paidi's homeplace to the east. A two-mile stretch where Tom said you wouldn't put a donkey. With fire in his belly, Paidi stated this is where they're going to win All-Irelands. He was true to his word.

"He had an appetite to win. He wanted to be the best and didn't like being beaten." But beyond that, Tom said Paidi was a true friend and a man of his word. "He was an incredibly lovable guy."

Paidi was competitive no matter what game he played. In 1971, my father was at the Gaeltacht as a student and one day met Paidi on the beach. Paidi organised a game of football between the students and the locals. Even then, Paidi didn't want to lose but he was out-played by Tim Kennelly's cousin. My father saw first-hand that Paidi was set for greatness.

Paidi was a hero who lived among us. It was always a thrill for relations who came home from abroad to head back to Ventry to meet him in his pub. He was always accessible, always willing to pose for a photograph.

"Where're you from?" Paidi asked me as I prepared to do my first interview with him years ago at the launch of one of his Comortas Peile tournaments. "Kerry," I said. A nod and a smile later, I sat back and listened to a man who, for me, put the gold in the green and gold.

Sinead Kissane is a sports presenter and reporter with TV3.

Irish Independent

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