It’s been ten years since the passing of one of Kerry’s greatest footballers. To many he was gone to soon, leaving a rich but complex legacy to make sense of. Páidí Ó Sé left memories for so many people to cherish, and it seems, everyone knew him and everyone wanted to know him.
In doing this piece for Balls.ie I looked forward to sitting in the company of Dara Ó Chinnéide to discuss his experience as a clubman and friend of Páidí. I knew there’d be stories, insights and reflections that only Dara would have, but also I just wanted to sit and have a chat with him. Anyone that knows An Chinnéadach will know why.
I knew there’d be questions that couldn’t be answered, maybe some that couldn’t even be asked.
We were left, bereft in a way, the complexity of the story scattered about the dugout in Gallarus football field, Páidí’s home park. Divilment and wildness, hard work and talent, his listening skills and his ability to make people feel that everything was ok.
The celebration of the man is easy. The yarns extending the myth spread ad infinitum.
Páidi Ó Sé, Rí Ard a’ Bhóthair was an icon on and off the field. He was also a man that experienced the ups and downs of life.
We all witnessed the best of him, but the strength of his legacy is that maybe we would want to witness the struggles too, in order to see him fully, and that our gratitude toward him might be valuable enough that it would lessen a suffering that lives in the world somewhere.
Football, Dara said, kept him grounded. Not being a footballer, but the commitment to and belief in the game of Gaelic football kept him him grounded.
We’ll continue to admire and respect him, the GAA community and anyone else that Paidí’s life touched, the geáitse of him on the field seared in to the rich tapestry of our collective memories, and the tourists will continue to flock to West Kerry to celebrate him.
Here are some of the most illuminating parts of my conversation with Dara:
DL: What made Páidí so special?
D Ó C: A lovely turn of phrase, just saying the right thing at the right time, inspiring people that way. People found it hard to accept that he could be tactically astute as well. Of course he made mistakes, Jesus look at the players that we had at the time, we all made mistakes. Watch the football that was being played at the time, we were playing dumbass football. In today's terms you'd look at it and you'd cringe now but that was the football of the time. What was missing in the early to mid-nineties when we were going through those fallow periods to when he eventually came in was Páidí, He was the right man, in the right place at the right time. He just had that bit of West Kerry misneach, self-belief. He just didn't doubt himself and that transferred onto players. Why shouldn't we win an All-Ireland? When you don't have one All-Ireland that's very hard to believe. It takes huge ability to inspire people to do that. That's what he brought to the table initially and I think he became a better manager. I think his best performance ever as a manager from my point of view was in 2002.
DL: How did he develop that lovely turn of phrase?
D Ó C: In hindsight when you think of Páidí, he comes home to become a publican and leaves the guards as a young man. He runs Kruger’s pub in Dunquin for a number of years. In that environment you're being exposed to unbelievable storytellers, unbelievable people. Then he kind of gets into the latter stages of his playing career and he becomes a publican in his own native patch. He's listening to stories the whole time and he's listening to these lads. That was one thing I do remember about Páidí. He'd listen intently to the way things were said as much as how they were said. He might come along a month or two later and say, 'you said to be a month or two ago that...'. Did I? He was a good listener like that. I'd say he learned an awful lot from his time behind the bar from the people and from the customers. He had such a way with words in a pre-match speech or in a pre-training or post-training session speech, that there was always an awareness there that you were playing for Kerry here. There's something bigger than just winning the match next Sunday. He had that big picture language all the time. Throughout that year in 1997 it was so much so to the point that I remember I kept a diary of all that. I wrote down what Páidí said every night, that's how much I was under his spell at the time. I have them at home and it's 25 years ago now. I used to write what he said to us afterwards and what he said about the next opposition.
DL: Is that book as valuable to you as the medal?
D Ó C: More so. I don't want it to become a cliche but Páidí had his eight medals famously in a biscuit tin. That's not being disrespectful to the winning of those medals. It's not about that, it never was maybe we thought it was when we were trying to win them. When you have them in your hand you kind of say that they are only representative of something that took years to achieve. Putting them in a biscuit tin isn't being disrespectful to the opposition or to anybody else that doesn't have them. When you are going to be on your deathbed someday you can't bring the medals with you. The nourishment that we got from that period of our lives, from in my case 18 years of age to 28 or 29 years of age, under Páidí Ó Sé's regime as manager, there was an awful lot in that. It was a very formative period of my own life, with big life decisions happening. Your first job, your future wife, your first car, all those things involved Páidí directly for me. That's how much of an impression he left. Somebody else could have probably done it but it so happens that it was Páidí at the time. He was of his time and of his place and for me he was a huge part of it. In the greater scheme of things ten years isn't a big part of a man's life but he just left such an impression on me.
DL: Are you cross with him?
D Ó C: He would have got a lot of abuse I suppose over the years for picking Gaeltacht lads. He would've been harder of his own, on his nephews and stuff like that when criticism was to be shipped out. Say with myself I suppose it didn't really go down well in certain places where my selection on the team might not have been always automatic. I might have got the nod ahead of maybe somebody from Tralee or Killarney, but that's the nature of it. That's always going to be the case. But was I ever cross with Páidí? It’s like the old Pink Floyd song 'Wish You Were Here' kind of thing for certain milestones in the club here and stuff like that. That regret is always there when somebody passes too soon.
DL: Was there a burning out instead of a fading away? Was he that size of a character that it was like...
D Ó C: It'd be a convenient narrative wouldn't it? It's hard to imagine. You're entering a different arena there where your kind of saying I wonder what he would be like now. Somebody said to me a couple of years ago that he'd be the pension age now at 65. What would he have been like? He would have been a grandfather; his own kids have kids now. He blazed a great trail for the 57 years that he was there. He wasn't going to ever go quietly. I do believe and I've heard members of his own family say that he was an innately shy man, but I'd say he kind of overcame that over the course of his football career. I think his time in Kruger’s and in the pub definitely helped him along in that regard as well. This apparently super confident kind of guy that didn't doubt himself, that we all saw as a manager over those years.