I FIRST heard of Páidí Ó Sé from John Long, who played with me on the 1970 Kerry minor team. John often referred to a young emerging star who he felt would be a future football phenomenon.
My first encounter with Páidí on the football field was in the Kerry Senior Colleges O’Sullivan Cup final in Nov 1971 when I played with St Michael’s College Listowel against St Brendan’s College Killarney. Although Páidí was only in second year in St Brendan’s he was still able to secure a place on the senior team. They defeated us by a point, depriving St Michael’s of their first O’Sullivan Cup win in their history.
Three years later Páidí transferred to St Michael’s to take his Leaving Certificate and led St Michael’s to a historic victory over St Brendan’s in the O’Sullivan Cup final of that year.
In 1973 I played with Páidí on the Kerry U21 team that beat Cork in Skibbereen. Cork had already won the senior and minor titles that year and there was concern in Kerry that the county would be facing a period of Cork dominance in Gaelic football. The team knew we had to perform — especially the players on the senior panel who had experienced a crushing defeat to Cork in the Munster final. Páidí was sitting next to me in the dressing room that evening and we both knew instinctively that the stakes were very high; that this was a do or die battle and the Rubicon had to be crossed for the future of Kerry football.
Many commentators reckon that this victory was the genesis of the illustrious golden years of Kerry football. For the next 10 years we played together on the Kerry senior team, including during the four-in-a-row campaign. We manned the right flank of the defence for Kerry — Páidí at right half-back and I at right corner-back. Both of us only conceded a point each to our immediate opponents over the campaign.
In Dublin I shared a room with Páidí before a number of All-Ireland semi-finals and finals. He was always a bundle of nerves before these big games, always bursting to get on to the pitch to let off early steam. He would often say, “all I need is an early chance to catch a ball chest-high and make a spectacular dash out of defence”. I remember before the 1975 All-Ireland final that I woke up at 4am in the hotel. Páidí was togged out in his socks and shorts prancing up and down the room getting ready for the fray.
Under Mick O’Dwyer the Kerry dressing room was always well organised and disciplined; voices were seldom raised except in the build-up before a game. The atmosphere was generally one of calm, coupled with tension. However, Páidí would occasionally seize the moment, break the tension, and intervene with a quirky comment.
Páidí loved to train from an early age; he practiced catching and kicking off the gable wall of his house in Ventry. He used hurdles to improve his spring for the high ball and a long trek around the challenging terrain of Mt Eagle to improve and build up his stamina. His training tech-niques were forward looking and he showed this when he took over the West Kerry team as player-manager, winning two county championships in 1984 and 1985.
In Sept 1995, I was not surprised when Páidí took over as manager of the Kerry senior team. He had been gearing himself up for this challenge for some time and in many of my conversations with him he never hid this ambition.
Kerry had not won an All-Ireland since 1986, a barren period often referred to as “the famine”. He was convinced he had the organisational skills and capacity to turn the tide. Páidí fulfilled another lifetime ambition when managing Kerry in defeating Mayo in the 1997 All-Ireland final after a lapse of 11 years.
I believe Páidí played a major role in this victory, which led to a major revival of the fortunes of Kerry football. Kerry have won five All-Ireland titles since this momentous victory.
Páidí repeated All-Ireland success as manager in 2000, when Kerry beat Galway in a replay. In the semi-final that year Kerry defeated Armagh following two epic struggles. At this stage Páidí was joined by John O’Keeffe as team trainer and he always acknowledged John’s role in this victory.
Following what he referred to as his premature departure as Kerry manager, Páidí demonstrated his managerial skills when he guided Westmeath to a spectacular Leinster final win in 2003 after a lapse of many years.
Since he stepped down from team management, Páidí became a respected sports journalist, always prepared to give an alternative, independent view, even if his opinions were not always popular.
As a player, manager, and commentator Páidí had a unique understanding and insight into the game of Gaelic football. Football was the oxygen of his life’s blood.
He is recognised as one of the greatest Kerry footballers of all time and his legacy will live on wherever Gaelic football is played.
I sympathise with his wife Máire and children Nessa, Siún, and Pádraig Óg. They have suffered an irreparable loss. But they can be proud of Páidí and what he achieved as a husband, father, sportsman, and businessman.
* Jimmy Deenihan is arts minister and a TD for Kerry North-West Limerick
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