End of a glorious era as O Se calls it a day
O'Connor full of praise for 'once in generation' midfielder
DARRAGH O Se's retirement announcement wasn't unexpected, yet it was only when it came that the GAA public began to assess the implications.
Rumours were rippling through the gossip streams for weeks that O Se would not be returning to the Kerry squad for a 17th successive season but, deep down, many people -- inside and outside Kerry -- felt that it was no more than idle chat and that Darragh would roll up for training some night soon and declare jauntily: 'Yerra, sure I was always going to be give it another year.'
Yesterday, the gossip turned into hard fact as O Se formally announced his departure to his friend, clubmate and former Kerry colleague, Dara O Cinneide on Raidio na nGaeltachta.
An era had ended, leaving Kerry with a midfield vacancy which they will find extremely difficult to fill, certainly to the remarkably high standard that O Se brought to the No 8 jersey over 81 championship games since making his debut against Limerick in 1994.
Quadrupled with Diarmuid Murphy's retirement, Tadhg Kennelly's return to Australia and Tommy Walsh's decision to try his luck in Australian Rules, O Se's exit leaves four lines on the Kerry team facing an overhaul. It may yet increase to five as there are doubts about whether Mike McCarthy, who came out of retirement last summer, will be back this year.
With respect to Murphy's reliability, Kennelly's vibrant endeavour and Walsh's rapidly expanding skills, it's O Se that Kerry will miss most of all when there's a big wheel calling out for a powerful shoulder in a championship game next summer.
While Kerry assess the impact his absence will have, there will be an added pep in their rivals' step as they consider how the Kingdom will cope without the man who has been their main reference point for years. Life will certainly be easier for opposition because O Se brought a whole lot more to his game than fielding skills, strength, accurate deliveries and the capacity to drift into a scoring position.
Most of all, he brought an imperious presence and a sense that while he was around, Kerry's quarrying and delivery systems were in reliable hands. Cork fell under his spell more than most.
It was as if they never quite figured out how to deal with him and while they improved to some degree over the last few years, he still caused them enormous problems, both physically and psychologically.
Remaining at such a high level for 16 successive seasons was a remarkable achievement in itself; doing it as a midfielder in a game where the demands have continued to increase all the time, almost defied the laws of nature.
But then O Se was the latest of a special triumvirate which, with the exception of just four seasons, patrolled midfield so effectively for Kerry since the mid-1950s.
Mick O'Connell took his unique talents through to 1974; Jack O'Shea arrived for the 1978 championship and lasted until 1992 and O Se checked in for the 1994 championship. He arrived at a time when Kerry had gone eight years without an All-Ireland title, while also languishing very much in Cork's shadow in Munster.
O Se -- and Kerry -- would have to wait until 1997 to end the All-Ireland drought, but it wasn't until the first decade of the new Millennium that they really asserted themselves. O Se's role in Kerry's five All-Ireland successes between 2000 and 2009 was hugely influential in terms of consistent presence and solidity.
Right through his sparkling career, Kerry managers didn't have to worry about the No 8 shirt. It was as if it welded itself to O Se's back and was so happy there that only its occupier could remove it.
Paidi O Se, who managed Kerry for eight seasons, described Darragh as the best footballer he had dealt with and even allowing for the fact that he was talking about his nephew, it's a rating few would query.
Dublin's Ciaran Whelan, who jousted with O Se for over a dozen years, said that one his main skills was a capacity to leap incredibly high from a standing position.
"It's not an easy thing to do, but Darragh did it all the time.
"He was also a fantastic linkman, always available to take the ball off a defender and move it on before popping up again in attack. You need a great engine to keep that going and he certainly had it.
"He was a hard man to play against, but was always fair. He'd take or give a knock in the spirit of the game but there were never any verbals or any afters.
"Once the game was over, that was it. I developed a good friendship with him over the years and would have great time for him as a player and a man," said Whelan.
Kerry manager, Jack O'Connor said O Se as one of the best midfielders the county ever produced and acknowledged that finding a replacement would be very difficult.
"I spoke to Darragh a couple of weeks ago and we both agreed that he would have to make his mind up about playing on or retiring about this time, because we have a three-week break until our next game and it would give him an opportunity to get a bit of training in.
"I could see that he was 50-50 at the time," said O'Connor.
Describing O Se as a midfielder who had all the skills, he said his mental strength was hugely important in making him the player he was.
"Mentally he was very strong, nothing fazed him and I think that's an attribute that younger fellows who want to step into his boots now must copy," said O'Connor.
He singled out games against Limerick in the drawn Munster final of 2004 and against Armagh in the 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final as two of O Se's best from a long list of outstanding performances.
"Players like Darragh O Se come around once in a generation," said O'Connor.
So, where does O Se stand on the list of all all-time greats? The Irish Independent rated him at No 23 in the 125 rankings last November, underlining how consistently effective he was in a glorious career.