A GAA great as Kerry player and manager

 

Páidí Ó Sé Born: May 16th, 1955; Died: December 15th, 2012For a man whose funeral this week came cloaked in such obfuscating myth and legend, the facts and figures of Páidí Ó Sé’s life, which has ended at the age of just 57, are remarkably stark.

Only five men in history have won eight All-Ireland football medals – Páidí was one of them. Only two have won multiple All Irelands as a player and a manager – Páidí was one of them.

As a tough-tackling, tight-marking wing-back, Ó Sé was the heartbeat of the great Kerry team of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unanimously accepted as one of the greatest defenders of his generation, he won five consecutive All Stars between 1981 and 1985. Famously, the players he marked in the course of 10 All-Ireland finals scored only a solitary point from play between them.

Yet it is as much for what he did in his second and third lives as the achievements of his playing youth that he will be remembered. As manager, he oversaw the ending of the (comparative) famine that had befallen Kerry football after he and the rest of his team had finished playing.

Not only did he bring the county its first All Ireland in 11 years in 1997, he followed it up with another in 2000 and laid the groundwork for the further four that would come over the next decade.

A Kerry landmark

After a storied spell with Westmeath – and a not-so storied one with Clare – he retired to west Kerry to live out his life as one of the country’s best-known publicans. Indeed, he was one of the country’s best-known people, full stop.

His pub in Ventry has long been a Kerry landmark, host to all manner of celebrity and politician down the years, most of whom have their time there marked by a picture on the wall. Always, always, arm in arm with the man whose name is over the door.

Páidí Ó Sé was born the third and final child of Tommy and Beatrice Ó Sé on May 16th, 1955. For years afterwards, he would tease his older brothers Tomás and Micheál that he was the only Irishman among them, the other two having been born when Tommy and Beatrice ran a guesthouse in London.

By the time Páidí came along, the Ó Sés were back in Tommy’s homeplace of west Kerry, their return to Ard na Bóthair having been hastened by an insurance payout after he was knocked off his bicycle by a London bus.

Named after Kerry footballer and four-time All-Ireland winner Paudie Sheehy, Ó Sé was a prodigious talent from a young age. He was also a complete tearaway, getting expelled from St Brendan’s School in Killarney as a teenager and being sent to live with his brother Micheál in Listowel.

Micheál had four sons, three of whom would go on to win 15 senior All-Ireland medals between them. Darragh and Tomás would win their first All- Irelands under their uncle Páidí, Marc would make his debut under him.

That was a long time in the future, however. Back then, in 1970, the priority was just getting young Páidí through school. When he left St Michael’s, Listowel, he went to Templemore to make a fist of going into the Garda. That too was a relatively short-lived pursuit, his regular breaches of discipline meaning he left that profession behind by the age of 25.

By then he was a multiple All- Ireland winner, at the vanguard of Mick O’Dwyer’s young team that defied expectations by beating Dublin in the 1975 All-Ireland final.

The story of that team is familiar to anyone who has followed Gaelic football. After ceding a couple of All-Irelands to Dublin in 1976 and 1977, Mick O’Dwyer brought them back to stockpile four in a row between 1978 and 1981. Famously, they were denied an unprecedented five-in-a-row by a last-minute goal in the 1982 final from Offaly’s Séamus Derby. They picked themselves up to collect three more on the bounce between 1984 and 1986, with Ó Sé a constant and impregnable force in the side.

Family, football, Fianna Fáil

Having taken over the lease on a pub in Dunquin in 1975, he finally got his wish to open one in Ventry in 1985. Charles Haughey was a regular visitor and a close friend, a trend that continued through Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen in later years. Ó Sé once described the three loves of his life as being “family, football and Fíanna Fáil” and he continued to defend the latter long after most people had stopped listening.

His managerial career was a revelation. Ending Kerry’s years in the All-Ireland wilderness nailed his place forever in the affections of his countymen. After his time as manager ended in 2003, he stunned the sport by taking Westmeath to their first ever Leinster title a year later. That county had been one of only three in the country not to have won a provincial title before his arrival.

Away from the game, he continued to be a popular public figure, frequently turning up on chat shows and writing a column in the Sunday Independent. The thousands who visited west Kerry from all over the country upon his death were a tribute to the enduring esteem in which he was held right up to his all too early demise.

He is survived by his wife Máire, daughters Neasa and Siún and son Pádraig Óg.