Tuesday 21 November 2017

Kingdom's warrior won the hearts of a nation

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

'It is as if Slea Head fell into the ocean. Páidí was Kerry. He loved it and Kerry loved him," said author JJ Barrett as news of the sudden death of Kerry legend Páidí ó Sé united friends and old football rivals in deep sadness yesterday.

As word of his passing spread quickly from his native Ventry, he was remembered not just as one of the outstanding Gaelic footballers of his generation and a winner of eight senior All-Ireland medals but a treasure of the Kingdom – a warrior whose natural exuberance charmed and infuriated in equal measure. He was, above all, one of the great characters in Irish life who spread the Kerry gospel all over the world.

GAA president Liam O'Neill expressed his sympathies on behalf of the GAA. "There was hardly a person on the island of Ireland, never mind in the GAA, who did not recognise or know of Páidí Ó Sé, such was his contribution to the Association and to Irish life.

"His excellence on the field of play in what was the greatest football team of all time still stands out to those of us who saw it and his passion for the game in no way ended with the completion of his playing days."

The former Meath manager Sean Boylan, a personal friend who broke bread with Páidí just two weeks ago, told the Sunday Independent he was heartbroken and devastated. "Just two weeks ago we met and he was talking about bringing a group of lads from my parish down to Kerry for a couple of training sessions. I will miss him terribly.

"He was one of nature's gentlemen. If ever a man could do you a good turn for you it was Páidí ó Sé. He was an extraordinary man. Apart from being a great footballer and an icon of the game, you could not come across a more loyal or truer friend," added Boylan.

Former Dublin goalkeeper Paddy Cullen said he and his old teammates were devastated at the passing of a man who was one of their greatest rivals in the cauldron of Croke Park, and one of their best friends off it.

"Sean Doherty rang me and told me. We can't believe it. It's a dreadful thing. Lord help his family. It is absolutely unreal. He was a great character, full of life, full of beans. He was an incredible character. We have lost one of the great men this country has produced."

Paddy Cullen said that enduring friendships had formed between the Dubs and Kerry, and that kinship still burned bright. "Páidí was the one we all loved," he said.

Former Offaly Manager Eugene McGee said that Páidí was the centre-piece of the greatest team ever in the 128-year history of the GAA.

"He was, in a way separate from the rest of them because he was a true individual.

"He combined brilliantly with his teammates but his sheer exuberance stood out."

McGee, whose Offaly team stopped Kerry's epic journey towards five All-Ireland titles in a row in 1982, added: "Remember when he was virtually dropped out of the sky and held a press conference in the Greville Arms Hotel in Mullingar to be announced as the Westmeath manager? He was hailed as the messiah and he proved to be just that.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern added: "Poor old Páidí, he was one of the greatest, I had great times with him over the years. We, myself and Miriam, always spent our family holiday in Ballyferriter and we stayed in Maire's house. The girls [Georgina and Cecelia] are devastated."

Another legend from the Dublin team of the '70s, David Hickey who was regularly marked by ó Sé recalled: "He was the epitome of indestructibility. You couldn't see him ever dying. John McCarthy just rang me to tell me and he was in tears. That's the way we all feel. I have to say that in all the years I played him he never struck a dirty blow. He was a true Corinthian."

"The current Dublin team went down to Kerry to train in August and I went out to Páidí's place with Ray Boyne at one o'clock on a Sunday afternoon and I said to Páidí I wanted to book a table for that night. He said 'no problem at all' and then I said 'for 65 people' and Páidí said right back to me 'still no problem'."

Páidí's former comrade in the green and gold, Minister Jimmy Deenihan said: "Páidí will be remembered not only as one of the greatest footballers of his time but also as a very successful manager, guiding Kerry to two All-Ireland victories. His talent, commitment and energy were legendary.

"His death, so unexpectedly and at so young an age, is a great loss. I would like to extend my deep condolences to his wife Maire, and children Neasa, Siún and Pádraig Óg on their loss."

Fine Gael Mayo Deputy and former Mayo, Galway and Leitrim manager, John O'Mahony said: "As someone who played against him and managed Galway against him in an All-Ireland final in 2000, Páidí became a personal friend over the years and I am deeply shocked at his sad passing."

"I travelled from Dublin to Killarney with him about a month ago – we had such great fun, he was an amazing man," said Kerry Senator, Paul Coughlan. "He was 'full of it' as we say down here, it's an awful tragedy."

Fittingly, Pat Spillane summed up the feelings of Páidí's comrades from that legendary Kerry team.

"We were at school together. We have been together since 1969. We were at St Brendan's as boarders. We won a Munster Colleges medal, we were on the Kerry minors, the Kerry under 21s and the Kerry seniors so he would be one of my best friends from that team.

"He was a rogue in the nicest sense of that word, but mostly he was a warrior. Páidí was unique.

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