Key to the Kingdom O Se calls time on career
Darragh O Se's retirement announcement wasn't unexpected, yet it was only when it came that the GAA public began to assess the implications.
Rumours were rippling through the gossip streams for weeks that O Se would not be returning to the Kerry squad for a 17th successive season but, deep down, many people — inside and outside Kerry — felt that it was no more than idle chat and that Darragh would roll up for training some night soon and declare jauntily: ‘Yerra, sure I was always going to be give it another year.'
Yesterday, the gossip turned into hard fact as O Se formally announced his departure to his friend, clubmate and former Kerry colleague, Dara O Cinneide on Radio na Gaeltachta.
An era had ended, leaving Kerry with a midfield vacancy which they will find extremely difficult to fill, certainly to the remarkably high standard that O Se brought to the No 8 jersey over 81 championship games since making his debut against Limerick in 1994.
Quadrupled with Diarmuid Murphy's retirement, Tadhg Kennelly's return to Australia and Tommy Walsh's decision to try his luck in Australian Rules, O Se's exit leaves four lines on the Kerry team facing an overhaul. It may yet increase to five as there are doubts about whether Mike McCarthy will be back this year.
However, it's O Se that Kerry will miss most of all when there's a big wheel calling out for a powerful shoulder in a championship game next summer.
Life will certainly be easier for opposition because O Se brought a whole lot more to his game than fielding skills, strength, accurate deliveries and the capacity to drift into a scoring position.
Most of all, he brought an imperious presence and a sense that while he was around, Kerry's quarrying and delivery systems were in reliable hands.
Remaining at such a high level for 16 successive seasons was a remarkable achievement in itself; doing it as a midfielder in a game where the demands have continued to decrease all the time almost defied the laws of nature. But then O Se was the latest of a special triumvirate which, with the exception of just four seasons, patrolled midfield so effectively for Kerry since the mid-1950s.
Mick O'Connell took his unique talents through to 1974; Jack O'Shea arrived for the 1978 championship and lasted until 1992 and O Se checked in for the 1994 championship. He arrived at a time when Kerry had gone eight years without an All-Ireland title.
O Se — and Kerry — would have to wait until 1997 to end the All-Ireland drought but it wasn't until the first decade of the new Millennium that they really asserted themselves. O Se's role in Kerry's five All-Ireland successes between 2000 and 2009 was hugely influential in terms of consistent presence and solidity.
Paidi O Se, who managed Kerry for eight seasons, described Darragh as the best footballer he had dealt with and even allowing for the fact that he was talking about his nephew, it's a rating few would query.
Kerry manager, Jack O'Connor said O Se was one of the best midfielders the county ever produced and acknowledged that finding a replacement would be difficult.
“I spoke to Darragh a couple of weeks ago and we both agreed that he would have to make his mind up about playing on or retiring about this time, because we have a three week break until our next game and it would give him an opportunity to get a bit of training in. I could see that he was 50-50 at the time,” said O'Connor.
Describing O Se as a midfielder who had all the skills, O’Connor said his mental strength was hugely important in making him the player he was.
“Mentally he was very strong, nothing fazed him and I think that's an attribute that younger fellows who want to step into his boots now must copy,” he said.
He singled out games against Limerick in the drawn Munster final of 2004 and against Armagh in the 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final as two of O Se's best from a long list of superb performances.
“Players like Darragh O Se come around once in a generation,” said O'Connor.
So where does O Se stand on the list of all all-time greats? The Belfast Telegraph rated him at No 23 in the 125 rankings last November, underlining how consistently effective he was in a glorious career.