Five-time All-Ireland winner Tomás Ó Sé retires at 35

2004 Footballer of the Year won five All-Stars and scored career total of 3-35 from wing-back


It’s a few years back now but the snapshot catches Tomás Ó Sé from all sides nonetheless.

Long since exiled in Cork, he took a notion one winter to ramble down to Nemo Rangers and ask if anyone minded him doing a bit of running a few days a week.

No problem, they said. Away with you.

One dog-dirty afternoon a few weeks later he was banging out laps on the main pitch when a car horn started honking from the far side of the fence.

The bould Tomás kept his head down and trudged away, letting on he was oblivious to the racket. Yet he knew well what the gripe was.

Tramping laps
The rain was ceaseless and had been for much of the day and the fine Nemo pitch could probably do without someone tramping laps around the outside of it.

While he was by no means indifferent to such concerns, Ó Sé took the view that if the fella was so worried about his pitch, he could step out of his car and come join him in the rain.

He might even need to muddy up his shoes a bit.

“Yer man was telling me to f*** off to the other field,” he remembered later. “And I said I’d have some fun. You need that sometimes.”

As he retires from inter-county football after 16 seasons of gracing it, the bare stats of Tomás Ó Sé’s career tell only a portion of the story.

The five All-Irelands, nine Munsters, the five All Stars, the Footballer of the Year award in 2009, the record 88 championship appearances – jewels all, strung on a necklace as pleasing to the eye as that of anyone who’s played the game.

Jogging away
Yet that image of him jogging away while some club grandee toots his annoyance from the car park probably contains within it just as much of what Ó Sé will be remembered for.

Devotion. He played for Kerry every season from 1998 onwards. He passed his brother Darragh’s appearance record in the summer of 2012 and kept plugging on another year when his friend and former half-back partner Eamonn Fitzmaurice took over.

Even though he hasn’t lived in Kerry since 2000, you wouldn’t say he ever left it. He always said that living in Cork would extend his career by a year or two, just because it meant summers spent away from the white noise around Kerry.

Yet nobody ever thought of him as anything less than committed. They just threw him the number five and kept their worries for other players.

Standards. He started off as a regular man-marking wing back but over the years he constantly set about improving himself.

We think of him now as an attacking force but in his first six seasons in a Kerry jersey, he only scored a grand total of 1-1. From 2004 onwards, he averaged four points a season and ends his career with 3-35 against his name.

The game changed and he changed with it.

Footballer of the year
He is one of only five defenders to have been named footballer of the year.

His haul of five All Stars is a record for a defender – one he shares with John O’Keeffe and his uncle Páidí. Not alone that but he was nominated for an All Star in 10 of his 16 seasons.

He was a fixed point of excellence throughout arguably Kerry’s second greatest era.

Defiance. He didn’t always colour strictly inside the lines, of course. There was always a certain amount of marching to the beat of his own drummer with the middle Ó Sé brother.

He picked up more suspensions than a player of his experience ought to have, especially late on in his career.

Yet nobody ever had him pegged as dangerous or dirty.

His red cards and retrospective bans were more commonly reckless rather than vindictive.

The signature image of his career remains his offering of the match ball to Stephen Cluxton after the final whistle had blown in the 2011 All-Ireland final.

He never had anything less than respect for his opponents. When it came to the authorities though, he could take or leave their interest.

Icon of the game
Ultimately, Tomás Ó Sé retires as he played. An icon of the game, the best wing back of his generation. Pick the best team of the past quarter-century and he’s there at number five. No quibbles, no whataboutery.

Oisín McConville had him for company plenty of afternoons, most memorably in the 2002 All-Ireland final. He sums him up with a simple verdict.

“He was the only defender I ever played against where I went out on to the pitch feeling that the onus was on me to mark him,” McConville said yesterday.

“He just had that much influence.”

He had it right to the last lap.