BRENDAN O'BRIEN: ‘He would just tell you to do something and you would do it’

For 24 years, they’ve been funnelling through Annascaul and Lispole, some even over the Conor Pass, into west Kerry from all corners, drawn to the peninsula by the charisma of one man.

The Comortas Peile will go ahead without Páidi Ó Sé later this month but go ahead it assuredly will, even if the vastness of the operation began to dawn on his family and friends after the old rogue died so suddenly last December.

Páidi being Páidi, he didn’t leave them with any road maps. There was no business plan to speak of, not one that existed beyond the inches between his ears anyway, but various people have picked up different strains and tied them all together all the same.

Tomás Ó Sé is doing his own bit, like he always has.

The invitational tournament has been a part of his life since he was 10 years old. He has been playing and helping out behind the bar as long as he can remember and his support extended to a 270-mile round trip from Fermoy to Dublin last Tuesday for the annual launch in the Burlington Hotel.

“When he was alive no-one knew exactly how it was organised or what was being done because he wasn’t exactly a great man for the detail. He would just tell you to do something and you would do it. It has actually taken fellas by fright since he died because people didn’t realise how big a job it was but he devoted all his time to it.

“It is not only the football. The fact that Páidi organised it himself and met each and every club that was invited, there was always a personal touch. There was always a night out and they were mad to come back and that has grown. He took awful pride in it. He did all the organising himself … It was his baby and when he tuned into something he could do it better than anybody.”

Páidi first got the event off the ground to drum up some business for the bar and generate a bit of life into a part of the country that wasn’t exactly flush with it come February but Tomás shakes his head with wonder at the thought that it now generates business for hoteliers as far away as Killarney and Tralee.

In and around 1,300 people will come together later this month, 48 teams drawn from seven different countries to a part of the land that has become more accustomed to waving folk goodbye than bidding them welcome thanks to an economic drought and the ongoing perfidies of rural depopulation.

Tomás Ó Sé has seen the effects both have had on his own club, An Ghaeltacht, and the issue of manpower is an equally sensitive and topical one in a sporting sense in Kerry right now given the rebuilding job being undertaken by Eamon Fitzmaurice in this his first season in charge of the county seniors.

Those wider social ills have been fingered as a concern for Kerry’s future as a footballing power but Ó Sé doesn’t buy that. Not completely. He looks at Mayo who are reaping the benefits of youth structures they sowed a decade ago and winces when he compares it to Kerry.

One U21 All-Ireland since 1998. No minor All-Ireland title since 1994. “That is just not right,” he insists. “It’s not.” For too long, he believes, Kerry have been brushing off such statistics, preferring instead to celebrate the odd nugget that has been mined from the underage mines.

“Lads still need to be held accountable more,” he says and it’s a theme he warms to again later as the conversation moves on to a Kerry team that suffered the embarrassment of playing a full half of football in Castlebar last Sunday without raising a flag of either colour.

Ó Sé can understand the hand-wringing but he won’t be joining in. He is there in Tralee week in, week out for training after the 80-mile drive down the N72 from his base in Cork and he wouldn’t be doing all that if he didn’t feel Kerry were still as strong as any other team in the country.

“I’m not going to say we are going to win anything but I do know we haven’t been at the races in the last two years and when I say at the races we haven’t been there and believed when it came down to it in the dying minutes of games that we were able to pull through and that is something we will have to work on and rectify.

“I do think the players are there. Sometimes freshening up the management is a good idea and lads are working very hard there in training. I was surprised myself by the performance last weekend but I wouldn’t be over-talking it or dwelling on it.”

It’s not wins he desires most right now but performances. Performances and hunger. Kerry still possess an abundance of talent and experience, even with Cooper, Paul Galvin and Kieran Donaghy still absent, but Ó Sé believes the impetus for 2013 needs to come from a younger generation which he feels has something to prove.

“The younger lads coming in, you would hope that they would put pressure on the older lads and that they would bust a gut. Their attitude should be that they want to be on the team, not just to sit on the bench.

“Hopefully if we get a bit of that going it will benefit the team because for a few years possibly fellas were happy just to sit on the bench and that is not the attitude. You need fellas, I won’t say arrogant, but cocky enough to think they can do it.”

He has had to face down his own doubts already this season. The commuting was taking its toll in pre-season but he has always warmed to the frigid nights and the hard training and the sight of the Dubs running out onto the Killarney pitch tomorrow will only fuel the fire for the dark nights still to come.

He’s not done yet. Far from it. Neither are Kerry.

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