Harrington mourns father

Charlie Mulqueen

The end finally came for the man from Castletownbere, Co Cork at 9 o'clock.

Only a few hours earlier, I had chatted to his youngest son, Pádraig, and he told me he knew it was only a matter of hours before his 72 year-old dad passed away.

Tadgh, Colm, Fintan, Fergal and Padraig, the boys whom he loved and were so much of his full life, were at Paddy's bedside when he died in St James's Hospital. So, too, of course, was the love of his life, Breda, a wife and mother whom he loved so deeply.

It was something Pádraig was prepared for over a number of weeks. When I spoke to him as I climbed on my plane to St Andrews yesterday morning, he wondered if I'd see him over the next couple of weeks. His worst fears were realised. The worst has come to the worst and the last man in the world to complain is the ninth best golfer in the world. "If I didn't hit another golf ball this year, I wouldn't worry," he told me. "Dad accepted that the end was coming and he was perfectly happy in that."

"I've had the best possible background for playing golf, for playing all sports," Pádraig said.

"I couldn't have got more encouragement from my dad without ever in any sense pushing or wanting to live his life through my sports.

"It was top-notch. When I was growing up my dad was a very competitive, very intelligent player and he just taught me the art of scoring.

"He would never tell me how to swing the club, but encouraged me to score well and at the end of the day that's really where my talents lie." Paddy was stricken with cancer of the oesophagus and battled gamely until over the last few days . He told Breda and the boys that the end was nigh and he was happy to accept that. All of them loved him so deeply but for the youngest of the quintet, it was particularly tough.

"Dad drove me everywhere, boys championships, youths championships, senior championships," he told us. "We were always together. When we were at home in Stackstown, he'd stand at the end of the practice range for hours and hours, picking up the balls and bringing them back to me. When it came to building the course at Stackstown, he played a major role and I was there for a lot of that. When I turned pro, he'd be there, encouraging, helping and not afraid to express a negative view if he felt it was needed."

" I knew because he had such a love for the game and such an insatiable appetite for practice that I felt here was an international player in the making." Paddy told me about Pádraig in an interview in the build-up to the young man's first appearance in the Ryder Cup at Brookline in 1999. "I never thought, of course, that he would become this successful but he adored practice, he never had to be dragged to the range. If he said he was going to hit balls for eight hours, he would make it nine."

If such words sound like Paddy was proud of what Pádraig was achieving even then, listen to what his dad had to say: "That doesn't come into it at all. What we want is that he should represent his family and his country properly and we are happy with that. We often discuss the topic and Breda and I are just relieved that he is where he is because he is always prepared to give 100% for everything and nobody puts in more."

Prophetic words indeed. Over the years, Pádraig Harrington has been acknowledged as the most professional of professional sportsmen and for this, his beloved dad has to take so much of the credit. I type here in St Andrews proud that Paddy Harrington was a friend of mine, a gentleman who opened his heart to me on one or many occasions, how he lived for sport as a youngster in Castletownbere and uards at 18 because he couldn't imagine where else he would have the opportunity to kick a football or whatever was going at the time.

When I peruse that 1999 interview reluctantly given only because I was a friend and working for what was then the Cork Examiner Paddy told me: "Pádraig never gets stressed. He might worry about the family and Ireland and not letting them down but never for himself."

Paddy Harrington was no mean sportsman himself. He played in two All-Ireland football finals with Cork in the fifties, losing on both occasions. In 1956, they were defeated by Galway, who were inspired by the genius of the 'terrible twins' Sean Purcell and Frank Stockwell and in 1957 they lost unexpectedly to Louth, who were captained by famous musician Dermot O'Brien.

In 1956, he was a member of the Cork side which defeated Meath to claim the National League title.

And, he represented Munster between 1958 and 1963.

He attended Rochestown College secondary school and played minor football with St Finbarrs.

He loved sport, any sport, and as for losing two All-Irelands in a row, he insisted: "I have no regrets at all. I played in two Croke Park finals and there's satisfaction in that. But you must look back on those times as a total package, not just this or that. All I can say I enjoyed every minute and every year of it."

Removal tomorrow to Ballyroan Church and funeral to Kilmashogue cemetery on Thursday.

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