Friday 15 November 2019

Kerry's Cúchulainn was perfect model for stars of today

Paidi O'Se in his role as Kerry Manager in 1997
Paidi O'Se in his role as Kerry Manager in 1997

The last time I met Páidí Ó Sé was a few months ago in O'Brien's of Leeson Street and, on spotting my arrival, he asked me to join him and a couple of friends. As usual, the conversation immediately rose to a higher level of animation because Páidí always seemed to generate that sort of ambience when he was among GAA people. We traversed the paths of football history for a while and then he became serious, or did he?

"Do you know what I would dearly love to do? I would love to take over a good Division 3 or 4 team and make them into an All-Ireland-winning team after a few years. Would you join me as the manager and I will be the trainer?" For a while, I wasn't sure whether he was serious or merely play-acting, because that was the sort of character he was. Having politely refused his offer, he persisted until we later parted ways, but he was still having a hearty laugh at the very idea.

And you know, to this day I am not sure he wasn't serious about the proposal because that sort of adventurous streak was always a part of the man. How else could he have dropped from the sky in late 2003 in Mullingar to take over the Westmeath football team? And the next year, who else could have achieved the county's one and only Leinster championship at the first time of asking?

Páidí's sudden death can correctly be described as tragic. No player of the past 50 years made such an impact on Gaelic football as he did and that was not just because he won eight All-Ireland medals as a player. Nor was it his successful managerial stints with Kerry and Westmeath.

No, his greatness was simply his personality, which, more than any other person I have ever met, personified the Gaelic Athletic Association. He had Cúchulainn-like status as a footballer, a leader and a warrior to rank with the best in any other section of Irish life.

As a genuine sportsman, he should be regarded as the model for GAA players because, although a ferocious competitor at the very highest level, he was a true sportsman despite the fact that he had several physical battles with a few famous opponents.

But, compared with the imitation hard men that abound in football today, Páidí Ó Sé was a colossus. He hit opponents fair and square and did not take umbrage when opponents did likewise. Could you ever imagine Páidí 'taking a dive'?

They say a person's character is defined by their place of birth and certainly west Kerry and Chorca Dhuibhne, in particular, shaped Páidí. The wild, spectacular terrain in which he grew up seemed to be encapsulated in his own personality and lifestyle.

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Páidí will be a huge loss to the whole west Kerry district because he was, in a sense, their spiritual leader. He stood four square for the intrinsic values of the area and, particularly, the spoken Irish language. He was the most famous footballer in Ireland for a generation and as regards the pantheon of great Kerry footballers, I would not like to be the person who would place anybody above him.

Páidí Ó Sé took Kerry's failure to win the five-in-a-row in 1982 very much to heart and that day he must have believed when he sallied up 75 yards along the Hogan Stand to score a great point that put Kerry four points clear with less than five minutes to play that it was all over. But, like the great warrior he and the other Kerry players then were, they came back to win three more All-Ireland's within four years.

For Páidí's wife, Máire, and children Neasa, Siún and Pádraig Óg, his death is a terrible loss, but they should take courage and inspiration from having known and loved one of the greatest persons ever to have been involved with Gaelic football and one of the most stimulating personalities the Kingdom of Kerry has ever produced in any sphere.

What an honourable legacy that is – slán abhaile, a Pháidí.

Irish Independent

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