Wednesday 13 December 2017

Darragh decision leaves huge void in Kerry midfield

Páidí ó Sé salutes his nephew Darragh for soaring highest among Kerry's great midfielders

T HE retirement of my nephew, Darragh ó Sé, from inter-county football hit like a bombshell last Wednesday evening and provoked tribute and sadness in equal measure, not only in Kerry, but all over the country.

I have always regarded Darragh as my brother in football, not my nephew; I trained him since he was 16 and it is my frank opinion that he was the greatest midfielder I have seen play for Kerry. He was bred for the job and he didn't let us down.

He was six foot tall, a bit on the small side for the position these days with 6ft 4ins players commonplace at midfield. But he was always an outstanding fielder and he became a magnificent kicker of the ball over the years too.

Kerry is fortunate in that it seems to produce top-class centrefield players one after the other. There are other positions on the field where the county has had difficulty in producing players of the calibre needed, particularly in the full-back slot.

I played a few National League games with Mick O'Connell in 1972 when I was coming onto the Kerry team, I played with Jack O'Shea at his very best, but Darragh was, beyond doubt, the king of midfield of my time. You could say there was not too much to choose between Jacko and Darragh -- Darragh was a much superior fielder, but my old team-mate had an unbelievable engine. At least twice I saw Jacko collect the ball from Charlie Nelligan and set a movement in motion that ended with him scoring a goal at the other end.

O'Connell was probably the classiest midfield player of all time, while before him Paddy Kennedy achieved legendary status. Seán ó Siochain used to say: "For high fielding, it was Paddy Kennedy, but for sheer class Mick O'Connell."

I will never forget O'Connell's displays when I was a young boy -- at a time when one's memory is at its most retentive. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that I later got to play with him. He could kick accurately with both feet, he had a massive jump both from a standing position and on the run, and he had perfect balance -- in fact, I never saw him do anything ungraceful in his entire career.

But Darragh ó Sé has my vote as the best Kerry midfielder I have seen. He soldiered for 16 years on the Kerry team, wearing only one jersey, the No 8.

He had a very good understanding with William Kirby of Austin Stacks, another mere six footer, and they reminded me at their best of O'Connell and Seamus Murphy. Although an accomplished player, Darragh never shirked physical exchanges, and if there was a bit of that treatment needed, he would not be found wanting.

I will miss seeing my nephew in the green and gold and while there is nothing to be sad about -- he had a glorious career with six All-Ireland medals, with Kerry in the Croke Park frame almost every year of his senior career. So let's rejoice in the memory of a great footballer.

Only a player himself knows when the time is right. I knew it myself in mid-May 1989 when, after a couple of laps of Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, I realised my time was up. I would never try to influence any player as to when he should step down, but for Darragh to continue on in 2010 would have been fraught with uncertainty. The management might not have been sure how to make best use of him, whether to start him for a game, or introduce him during the course of the match, or how to keep his mind fresh for the fray.

The hard work and commitment required of a modern footballer is daunting for anyone and Darragh, at 34, knew the right time to let go.

Darragh first came on the U21 team as a minor when I was manager. I brought him on for the last five or six minutes of an All-Ireland semi-final against Galway in Ennis and he changed the course of the game in that time.

His very best year in a Kerry jersey, I believe, was 2000. His display against Armagh in an All-Ireland semi-final replay at Croke Park on a Saturday was a tour de force.

I was greatly moved at the launch Comortas Páidí ó Sé in the Burlington last week by Taoiseach Brian Cowen's words of praise for Darragh shortly after the news had come through. The Taoiseach said that he was in the great Kerry tradition of Jacko, Mick and Paddy Kennedy, and he might indeed have also mentioned that superb Offaly midfielder Willie Bryan.

Darragh's departure at this time leaves a gaping hole in a Kerry team that has already lost Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Kennelly, and there is talk of Mike McCarthy standing down.

It will be a huge challenge for the Kerry management to replace these great footballers -- one possibility is to move Kieran Donaghy out to midfield and bring Barry John Walsh, every bit as powerful as his brother Tommy, in at full-forward.

So farewell to Darragh. I thank you on behalf of people from all over the country for the great pleasure you have given us and for the unrivalled service you have given to your native county of Kerry.

Good luck in your life after football.

T he launch of Comortas ó Sé last Wednesday evening was a great occasion and has whetted people's appetite for the tournament in West Kerry on Saturday and Sunday of next weekend.

The talk at the launch, of course, was all about Darragh ó Sé's retirement, and it added an emotional edge to the night.

Apart from Mr Cowen, I was delighted to see leading politicians such as Batt O'Keeffe, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue, the American ambassador Dan Rooney, Paul Galvin, my erstwhile sparring party Mayo manager John O'Mahony, Tim Pat Coogan, Hugh O'Flaherty, Oliver Barry, Fáilte Ireland chairman Redmond O'Donoghue, Dominic Dillane of Fáilte Ireland, Seán Kinsella, Eamonn Coghlan, Christy O'Connor Jnr, and many others.

There was splendid music and singing from Seán O'Shea, of Comhaltas fame, and a wonderful band comprising Dessie O'Halloran and his two colleagues from Inishbofin.

So onto next weekend with both ladies and men's football tournaments to be followed on Sunday by the opening of an exhibition of brilliant photographs by the Sunday Independent's photographic editor David Conachy.

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