My earliest memory of Páidí Ó Sé is of a young lad in perpetual motion with ball in hand playing against the gable end of his house in Árd a’ Bhothair or soloing up the cosach, that picturesque little byroad to Dunquin.
He was born to play, inspired by his older brothers Micheal and Tom — both talented footballers and multiple All-Ireland medal holders, his first cousin — the great Tom Long, the late Dan Kavanagh, Batt Garvey and Mick Murphy. He was determined to wear the green and gold from an early age.
He was encouraged by his mother Beatrice who is reputed to have once declared ‘beating Cork in a Munster final was a far superior achievement than a successful Leaving Cert’.
I first saw him playing at underage level in Dingle. Something about him made an immediate impact. He was assured, strong, athletic, with safe hands and surprising speed for one that appeared so sturdy. Above all, what struck me was his aura of self confidence and the manner in which he strutted around the pitch as if declaring ‘this is my natural habitat’.
I was living in Dublin at that stage so the next time I saw him play was at midfield for the Kerry minors in the Munster final against Cork in 1974. He was partnered by Ogie Moran who would join him in that select group to hold eight All-Ireland Celtic crosses.
That day you knew Páidí was a senior star in the making.
So much has been written and said about his inter-county career but what may not be that well known was his selfless support and service to his club An Ghaeltacht and to the divisional team West Kerry. Páidí rarely missed training or a game for either unit and was their lynchpin for many years. Although he won two senior county championships, many of his years at club level were barren with little prospect of success. This never diluted his enthusiasm or deterred his commitment.
It was perhaps inevitable his last game would be with his beloved club and his playing days would end involuntarily because of injury.
The incident is still talked about in awe in West Kerry. Two local heroes, Páidí and the late Denis Higgins of Lispole came from opposite directions to contest a 50-50 ball. Like two giant moose in the rutting season, neither flinched. The sound of the impact reverberated through the hills and neither played the game again.
Páidí’s zest for life, charisma and roguery is legendary. I can vouch that the legend is indeed true. Some years ago he rang me several times in Croke Park to attend the launch of the inaugural Páidí Ó Sé tournament. I went because I thought he was badly stuck and needed a crowd. To my amazement several hundred people were there. These included some heavyweight politicians from a variety of parties, judges, members of the print and electronic media... generally a who’s who of Irish society.
Páidí asked me to conduct the draw and also wanted a man from Annascaul, John Courtney (the retired former head of the murder squad), to be involved.
I agreed and Páidí proclaimed to the crowd for the integrity of the draw it was being conducted by a senior representative from Croke Park overseen by the former head of the murder squad. He then whispered to me ‘keep Dingle and Lispole apart’. When I queried how I’d do that he told me ‘just draw out the slips of paper and hand them to me and I’ll call out the names’. Thus the draw was conducted and he had indirectly got tacit Croke Park approval for his venture.
On another occasion I went to Dubai with Páidí on an All Stars trip. We met Christy Kissane, a great Kerryman living in London who Páidí had arranged to meet at Heathrow. Suffice to say only for Christy’s intimate knowledge of the airport we would have missed the onwards flight with the teams and officials.
When in Dubai I went shopping with Páidí and we spotted a sign in a window that read ‘genuine fakes’. Páidí had to examine the merchandise and I saw him doing the deal for two dozen fake Rolex watches for €5 each. When I queried his sanity he responded, ‘they’ll be handy for prizes at the P Ó Sé tournament’.
The All Star game is essentially an exhibition attended by ex-Pats and the outcome is never taken seriously. Therefore I could not believe it when I heard Páidí telling his team to give it their all and that it was as easy to win as it was to lose. It gave me another insight. Irrespective of the circumstances, as soon as the team crossed the white line the competitive instinct took over. I forget the outcome but I’m certain Páidí would have known the result of that inconsequential event up to last Saturday.
Páidí was an institution. A one-man industry who left a giant footprint in the sands that represent the chronicle of Kerry and the GAA. He has left a legacy of wonderful memories. He was the embodiment of our heritage.
A light has gone out over Chorca Dhuibne because Páidí’s like will not be seen again.
It was a privilege to have known him as a friend.
My deepest condolences to Máire, Neasa, Siún, Pádraig Óg and Tom, his brother and also to Joan and the four lads.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
* Danny Lynch is the former PRO for the GAA.
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