Wednesday 24 January 2018

Torture of being in dugout against team he loved

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

How much did Páidí Ó Sé love the green and gold of his beloved Kerry?

As much as the medals and the driving runs out of defence, hunched with collar up and that distinctive execution of the solo, as much as the passion he generated in some of the speeches he was renowned for, there was a moment in Cusack Park in Mullingar when that great love manifested itself in the most unusual way.

It was Sunday, March 10, 2004, less than five months into his reign as Westmeath manager, five months since his acrimonious departure from Kerry.

Kerry, now under Jack O'Connor's stewardship, were in town for a fourth-round league match and with two draws and a defeat behind him, Páidí's start to life in the midlands had been less than auspicious.

They needed an injection of life and energy, but on that given day Páidí wasn't giving it.

Kerry cruised to a 2-10 to 0-10 victory and Páidí barely got off the bench that afternoon.

Normally an effervescent presence on a sideline with trademark T-shirt, belted chinos and white runners, pacing up and down and swinging his forearms to every beat and rhythm of a game, he sat virtually motionless for the duration, perhaps frozen by the position he had found himself in.

He had vowed at a press conference in the Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney never to manage against Kerry, but within days had agreed to take over in Westmeath, pledging "150pc".

But when it came to it that day, he couldn't muster a movement to dispel the perception of great discomfort in the position he was in that afternoon.

As much as he had promised it, he couldn't deliver on what he would admit in the documentary 'Marooned' – which followed him during his first year with Westmeath – as "the hardest day of my life outside bereavements and things like that".

As much as it was always his strength, the green and gold that day was his weakness, his Kryptonite.

The Westmeath supporters sensed it too, but by summer he had won them back again. Mick O'Dwyer always said that Páidí would tune in "with the arrival of the cuckoo" and so it transpired with their first Leinster title.

The magnitude of that success can never be underestimated in any tribute to him now. Deep down there was always a sense in Páidí that he was never fully recognised as a great coach or manager despite reviving Kerry in the mid-1990s and that's perhaps why he 'bounced' into the Westmeath job.

Not being considered for an extension as manager of Kerry manager in late 2003 hurt more than anything, but significantly they won four of the next six All-Ireland titles, three under O'Connor.

Still, Páidí proved his own point with that historic 2004 success – Westmeath's one and only Leinster title.

The magnetism he had was perhaps best reflected in the annual launch of his February tournament. Rarely, if ever, was it not launched by the Taoiseach of the day, regardless of political affiliation or whatever important piece of legislation there was that day.

Already Enda Kenny was down to set in motion the 2013 tournament, which was being given special significance because of The Gathering next February.

How was it that political swords were placed back in their scabbards for those couple of hours in Dublin 2 in honour of a West Kerry football tournament at the tail end of February?

That people from all walks of life – judiciary, business, sporting and political – could make it their business to be in Dublin for that night, year after year, says everything about one of the truly iconic figures of Gaelic games.

Irish Independent

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