This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the Páidi Ó Sé Gaelic Football Tournament which is held in the West Kerry Gaeltacht in February of each year.
The popularity of the tournament reflects that of Ó Sé who remains an icon of the GAA and Ireland whose legacy has continued to grow with each passing year.
Comórtas Peile Páidi Ó Sé has grown from four teams in its 1989 inception to 44 teams in 2019 as clubs from as far as the United Arab Emirates flock to the wonderfully unique Dingle peninsula for a weekend of fun and football.
Whilst he was well known for his fun, it was definitely the football that took precedence in Páidi’s life, in particular, Kerry football.
Not many can attest to his love of Kerry football much more than nephew and five-time All-Ireland winner, Tomás Ó Sé. In his autobiography, ‘The White Heat’ the younger Ó Sé displays admiration for each of the managers that he played under but conceded that none of them left a mark on him the way his uncle had.
Speaking to Pundit Arena at the recent launch of this year’s Gourmet Food Parlour O’Connor Cup, Ó Sé repeatedly spoke of his uncle’s passion for Kerry football and how that resonated with teams.
“He taught you the Kerry way, he was after going through it and he had been around the greats, had seen it all and had a great knowledge of past Kerry teams,” Ó Sé said.
“He loved and tapped into all that, it added to his passion for the jersey, it added to his passion for training, it added to his passion for the Kerry way, and you know what, the Kerry way is probably no different to anyone else, but when you went on a field with that jersey on you, you were made to believe it was worth more than anything else, there’s expectations there and he spoke a lot about that.”
Ó Sé spoke of how Kerry wouldn’t have gotten over the line and ended their ‘famine’ without Páidi’s influence as he took it more serious than anyone despite the image that some may have portrayed of him.
At that time Kerry needed Páidi Ó Sé there was no two ways about it.
“In the ’97 All-Ireland and especially in the ’96 Munster final against Cork, he got Kerry over the line where they had been struggling for so long, we beat Cork down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 1996, then went on to win an All-Ireland in 1997, Kerry hadn’t won one since 1986 and that was a famine,” Ó Sé said.
“He brought them out of that wilderness and he did it his way, nobody took it more serious than he did and I think people underestimated tactically how strong he was, they thought he was just this wild man from Kerry and he wasn’t, he was tactically astute.
“He gave Kerry something that only he could have given them at that time, Ive time for all the managers I played under, it was a great time they were all great, but Páidi left a mark on me that’s just hard to describe.”
The game has changed in the twenty-four years since Páidi’s appointment as Kerry boss. The demands are at an all-time high and have been for quite some time.
Tomás Ó Sé admits that it is a different ball game from that era and feels that there can’t be the same level of enjoyment given the increased pressure.
“The time that goes into it now, the preparation and what it takes out of your life is massive, it’s huge. It was literally a Tuesday, a Thursday, and a weekend game at the very start. It’s more than that now, the levels have gone up and it’s at a professional level now,” Ó Sé said.
“You can’t stay at that same level constantly, there’s more pressure on a modern day player, there’s more training, way more training and time involved. So, the same level of enjoyment can’t be there in my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s probably 30 footballers inside of Dublin, Kildare, in Kerry that’ll refute that and say ‘hang on a minute, we are enjoying it’.
“But you can understand why players from so-called lesser counties walk away because the biggest challenge for them, the biggest competition is probably the National League because they don’t have a prayer in the Championship.
“So why would they give the same effort and make the same sacrifices that somebody from Dublin is making? It’s a tough commitment now, and it’s a different ball game than it was 20 years ago, definitely.”