Duffy leads the tributes to a 'larger than life' Kerry legend
Indestructible is the one word they kept repeating – instinctively expressing both his nature, and the very impossibility, that Páidí Ó Sé is no longer with us.
If there is any comprehensible measure of the life that Ó Sé has abruptly left behind, it’s in the depth of tributes from the men who not only played with him, but also against him, and from the managers too who once plotted his downfall on the sideline.
Many of them will begin converging on the village of Ventry in West Kerry later today, for a final send off at noon tomorrow. In the strangest of ways it just won’t feel right that Páidí is not there to share in it, an occasion he would naturally have been the life and soul of too.
Instead his remains will arrive at Ventry Church at noon tomorrow, for requiem mass and funeral afterwards, at Reilig Caitlíona, to be most deeply regretted by his wife Máire, daughters Neasa and Siún, son Pádraig Óg, brother Tomás, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.
With that there’ll be no easy summarising his football life and career, only the extraordinary lengths to which Páidí took it: that his first name alone suffices proves his uniqueness in Irish life, so too the fact those gathering in Ventry over the coming days won’t just come from the Gaelic football world, but also the world of politicians and musicians, of writers and poets and painters, and perhaps even of famous Hollywood studios too.
Kerry team-mate John O’Keeffe, football analyst for this newspaper, highlighted this indestructible nature, both on and off the field, Páidí’s desire to be the last man standing in the game, and in the celebration of victory, or indeed defeat, that followed. “I never met a man with more passion for the game, with a greater love for Kerry football,” said O’Keeffe.
Among the GAA dignitaries leading the tributes was director general Páraic Duffy: “I know terms like ‘larger than life’ are often overused, but it’s very hard to think of a better description of Páidí,” he said.
“He was a wonderful player, first and foremost, but also had incredible passion for football, and brightened up every room he came in to, and every social occasion.”
Mick O’Dwyer, the man who first brought him on to the Kerry senior team, in 1975, described him as “one of the greatest players to have left this county” – which says a great deal: “He was an exceptional footballer, an exceptional man, because no matter what he did in life, he wanted to be the best.”
In the end Páidí played a hand in 14 All-Ireland victories with Kerry, between playing, under-21 and senior, and also team management: his record of only once conceding a point to his direct opponent in 10 All-Ireland finals will never be surpassed, although the very fact he’d even conceded that point had haunted him.
“I remember he once fancied himself as a midfielder, as well,” said team-mate Jack O’Shea: “There would nothing he thought he couldn’t do. His record speaks for itself, and I never remember him playing poorly, or being outplayed. He was Kerry to the back bone, and showed it in management too, what football meant to him.”
With his sudden death on Saturday morning, aged just 57, came the disbelieving phone calls and news bulletins, the feeling and sense of loss as great outside of Kerry as within it, including his great rival county, Dublin.
“He was the epitome of indestructibility,” said Dublin’s David Hickey, so often his direct opponent in the epic All-Ireland battles. “You couldn’t see him ever dying. I have to say that in all the years I played him he never struck a dirty blow. He was a true Corinthian.”
His inimitable playing style, and the swagger of his walk to the looseness of his talk, is the subject of many wild and beautiful stories, typically ending with the conclusion that Páidí was absolutely fearless.
“He told me, one time, that it’s a good job you’re on one end of the pitch, and I’m on the other, because if we met, one of us wouldn’t survive,” said Dublin defender Gay O’Driscoll. “That was the kind of passion he played with. They threw away the mould, when they made Páidí.”
O’Keeffe recalled how the first thing Páidí would do when running onto the field for a big game was to straightaway kick a dead ball over the bar, from 50 yards, without even warming up – defying all the so-called laws of sports science. Yet he trained with utter conviction.
“His loyalty to the people he knew, and to the GAA, was remarkable,” said Mayo TD John O’Mahony.
Former Meath manager Seán Boylan paid his tribute. “Apart from being a great footballer and an icon of the game, you could not come across a more loyal or truer friend.”
For that, and such a true aristocrat of Kerry’s football spirit, Páidí Ó Sé’s life is in itself already an indestructible monument.