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Colm O'Rourke: Free spirit was one of the good guys

When I heard on Tuesday morning that Aengus Fanning had gone over the river, I felt a great deal of sadness with the passing of a man who was very good to me over the last twenty-something years that I have been writing for this paper.

In that time I really enjoyed every conversation with him because he was different. Sometimes I thought his ideas were off-centre but they were always refreshing and made you think. Most of the time I wondered was he just winding everyone up, as his brain seemed to turn over at a thousand miles an hour, throwing off opinions and angles to stories that required more than a little lateral thinking.

When I joined this paper after a meeting with the then sports editor, Adhamhnán O'Sullivan, another good, kindly man, I was invited to have lunch with Aengus and a few others. I assumed this was to discuss what I would write about but nothing of the sort was ever mentioned, instead the audience was treated to a one-man raconteur show on everything under the sun. Stories and laughter prevailed and then I was told on leaving to write more or less whatever I wanted.

I was struck at the time by a man with a patrician air with long silver hair who felt comfortable in any company, a man who trusted people to get on with their work and who backed them whenever there was a bit of heat in the kitchen.

He did not seem to trouble himself much with money either. After a number of years working for the Sunday Independent we were having lunch and I said to him, half-jokingly, that I was not being paid enough. He immediately said to Adhamhnán that he should give me a rise. When the sports editor said the budget was already spent, Aengus just said "give him a rise anyway". He did not seem to know or care much about the wages side of things but if he thought you were doing a good job he did not mind telling you and wanted that rewarded.

The money was the vulgar side of things to get out of the way quickly so his restless mind could surf the issues of the day, give his opinion and look for something interesting back. And at the end of most years there was a short hand-written note to thank you for your contribution; if it did not arrive, I presumed it meant something else.

Of course I am quite sure that he could be plain wrong and belligerent about some things too, but I never, in all my dealings with him, saw that side. More often than not there were long conversations around All-Ireland time about the merits or otherwise of the current Kerry side.

At times he had strange ideas about the composition of the team and always seemed to think that players from certain streets in Tralee and some other clubs were superior. I often took him up on that but he believed in tradition and the certain character-forming qualities that emanated from parts of his own town and county. Perhaps he was right too in some ways, those qualities of honesty, self-sacrifice and lack of ego are not necessarily universal.

Over the last few years he often wanted me to write more about issues of the day but I thought I had enough to do with football and only contributed occasionally. In many of those conversations I got a sense of a man who was wrestling with the drift in the way the country was going and trying to come up with some new thinking and a different way forward.

In that quest he wanted people to write things from new angles as he felt that old ways, whether they were economic, social, sporting or political, had to be challenged and changed. All for the common good too. It is a great pity that he did not have time for that journey as he sought to map, through provocative journalism, a way forward for a new Ireland.

In many ways, Aengus was a free spirit and it was no wonder then that his football career with Kerry was relatively short. And if life threw up too many interesting things to do in the 1960s, he would certainly find it hard to have the monastic existence of a modern footballer.

His obvious admiration for great Kerry players like Seán Murphy, Mick O'Connell and Colm Cooper always hinted that he liked something different than the blandness which comes with a lot of present-day football. Many times recently the game itself, and even Kerry's style of play, dismayed him. Yet almost every year he seemed to have a bet on Kerry for the All-Ireland, he often told me he had "a feeling about them this year". That was it, there was no logical or rational explanation but for the last decade he always got a fair run for his money.

On many occasions I felt that Aengus Fanning would have made a wonderful writer on the experiences of life if he took to wander the highways of the world. His ease and genuine interest in making conversation with people would make for brilliant reading and no man he met would be greater than the next -- unless they were absolutely boring of course. There was no time for that.

I will always think of Aengus with great fondness. A person's life is all the greater for meeting good and generous people. Aengus Fanning was certainly one of those.

Sunday Indo Sport