Former team-mates and opponents spoke yesterday of their respect for Páidí Ó Sé as a “creative” footballer, an innovator in the development of attacking half-back play and his expertise as a manager.
“Off the field, I would have been friendly with him and had some good craic with him over the years on All Star trips and things like that,” recalled Cork legend Denis Allen last night.
“I liked his style, he was a great player. He was more of a good footballer than a defender. People say he was a man-marker, but he wasn’t. He was too creative for that. He was able to read the game and he was tough. You could see why Tomás Ó Sé is good going forward — he definitely got that from his uncle. In the dressing room, he was very inspirational. I know Mikey (Sheehy) said at times that if you felt you were up against it, you’d look over at Páidí and you’d see his attitude coming out. I played with him a few times with Munster and he was the same. He just wanted to win every match.”
Offaly great Matt Connor played a key role in three jousts with Kerry, in the All-Ireland semi-final of 1980 and the following two finals. He remembered Ó Sé as one of the best defenders at the time.
“He was a very good player. I think he got two points against us in the 1982 final. As well as doing his job defensively, he was very good going forward. On top of that, he was a great leader and an inspiration to the team as well. That team was never in trouble that much, but whenever they were, he’d always be the man to go forward. He was a great character, always good to meet up.”
“He was a great warrior. They say that ‘what you see is what you get’ and he wore his passion on his sleeve. He was tremendous like that. For Páidí to be motivating himself in a dressing room, he would also motivate the players around him. Then, when Kerry were in serious trouble in the mid-90s, he turned it around. He brought the team on and it was difficult at that time because when you are out of winning All-Irelands for a period, it’s amazing how difficult it is to get back winning. It’s a great credit to him he was able to bring everybody behind him and the whole county. To bring Kerry back top of the pile again was terrific.”
Stephen Stack, who won an All-Ireland under Ó Sé in 1997, started his playing career around the time Páidí was finished up. “The thing that struck me in terms of watching him and trying to learn from him was that he was a very skilful player. Everyone thinks he was all about brawn and that kind of thing, but he had tremendous skill and great power. He had the most powerful pair of thighs I ever saw in a footballer and a lot of that was down to the incredibly hard work he did on the mountains down there. That’s where he built up and his strength and his stamina.
“Attacking half-backs weren’t part of the traditional game at all. Probably more than anybody else, he pioneered that kind of play. The one thing I always picked up and he always preached as a manger, he would never attack until he had his defensive duties covered first — if he had his man beaten he’d race up the field.
“He was a great motivator. You’d hear a lot of talk about him banging the table and all that, but his motivation would have a lot to do with the kind of conversations he would have leading up to big games. He was constantly encouraging fellows and talking about their games and how they could improve. He got very close to the players on that (1997) panel.
“It was 11 years since we had won the All-Ireland, an enormous gap. He was very conscious of the psychological aspect and the one thing he didn’t want was to bring any baggage from his time in the past because there was no point in trying to compare us to anything he experienced. That was a once-in-a-lifetime group of players he was part of. He always said we needed to establish ourselves as a squad in our own right.”
Anthony Davis, former Cork star and The Sunday Game analyst shared the general sense of shock. “As a personality, he just had this aura. You were always entertained. There was always some bit of craic and roguery going on. And then when you’d see him in latter years on the sideline, so serious — a different type of character. Other than watching him and admiring his style, you admired his spirit more than anything.”
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