Sunday 25 February 2018

Paidi O Se: Never a dull moment in the company of true Kerryman

Paidi O Se

Aengus Fanning was one of my best friends. I knew him well before I became a football analyst for the Sunday Independent.

He was a big Kerryman with a fierce grá for everything that came out of the county from football to art, music and culture. He also had a great flair for excitement and that could be seen through the pages of the paper. He filled it with what people were interested in and always strived to excite and tease the reader.

Aengus Fanning was also a rogue and I encountered this side of his character on many occasions. More often than not when I thought I was one step ahead of him, I was usually two behind. He definitely had the measure of me and many will say that's not an easy feat.

One time I wanted a raise from the paper so I decided to take Mick O'Dwyer to lunch with me to help me negotiate the deal with Aengus. We were in Puerto Banus in Spain and Micko and I had it arranged that I'd go to the bathroom and he would ask for the raise on my behalf. When I came back I got the nod from Micko that the job was done and we carried on with the lunch. I didn't want to count my chickens but, lo and behold, when my next pay cheque arrived I'd received the increase.

Two weeks down the road Aengus and I met in Dublin and we joked about it; he told me he knew what I was at and that it was a very astute move to bring Micko to negotiate the deal. I tried to feign innocence but there was no codding him.

Whenever we met we had great crack. There were a lot of similarities between us and rarely was there a cross word spoken but I suppose I did cross his bow once and he took exception to it.

We were discussing different aspects of the Kerry minor team that he played on with Mick O'Dwyer in the 1950s. We were debating what year it was and I was saying to him that I had recently attended Micko's 70th birthday party. So I nonchalantly asked him his age and he was fiercely offended by the question -- "the Lord above wouldn't ask you that Páidí," he said.

We always worked on my weekly column together but if there was a time that he was unavailable and I worked on it with someone else I'd tell him how it wasn't the same unless he did it with me. I'd often tell him that it's only Kerrymen who understand me, people who have played the game at the highest level and if you played with the Kerry minors you played football at the highest level and Aengus definitely liked to hear that.

Another fascination Aengus had was with Dr Seán Murphy, one of the famous Murphy brothers from Camp. He was totally blown away by the fact that Dr Seán had won All-Ireland medals in four different grades with his three brothers. He found this record amazing. He had strong opinions on Kerry football in general and often picked up the phone to share them with me.

He had no time for the short-passing game that has started to creep into football but he maintained that other teams playing it wouldn't affect Kerry football at all. He knew that Kerry would still play the long ball and gave the example of how Dr Seán Murphy used to beautifully drop-kick the ball diagonally into Tadhgy Lyne.

Aengus was a staunch defender of Paul Galvin, he always felt that he got a raw deal from referees and the establishment. Most of the time I would defend Paul too but not all of the time. Aengus on the other hand would defend him no matter what he did, and I remember he wrote an article last year saying that Galvin had been built up in the media and was paying the price for it.

Aengus loved a good music session and there were a few that stand out as special. One was in Ventry in 2004. I threw a party in a restaurant called the Old Stone House and both himself and Anne came, along with Henry Mountcharles, the Bailey brothers from Roscommon and a share of Kerry footballers. There was great banter flowing but what he enjoyed above all was Tommy Doyle's father playing the accordion. Aengus played along with him for most of the night, there was no stopping them. He had a great time and he often talked about that night.

One regret I have is that we didn't get to go on a trip to New York that we often talked about. We planned to take in a Connacht championship game and then do a tour of the Irish areas and write a piece about the whole experience. But he had to pull out at the last minute and I was hoping we'd get to go another time.

I never saw him down very often but one occasion stands out for me. It was after Veronica Guerin was killed and we went for lunch. He was devastated by what had happened. He had a fierce loyalty to all his people and that hit him hard.

It's rare you see such a level of loyalty for staff from the boss but he had it, especially for David Conachy the Sunday Independent photographic editor. David showed a fierce loyalty to him too and they got on like a house on fire. I loved being around the two of them. They came down to Ventry one weekend for a photographic exhibition during my football competition. It was Dave's exhibition; Aengus opened it, entertained the crowd and then finished off by playing the tin whistle.

He was always at something, entertaining, talking, and thinking. He was never idle. Just before Christmas he sent me down a book of essays on Gaelic games by the legendary journalist PD Mehigan, better known as Carbery, with a note inside it, telling me how he found the author's description of the game fascinating, that he had a real insight into the game. He was thinking right until the end.

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