Paddy Fenning interview - Fundraising drive for MND and Offaly homeless

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Paddy Fenning interview - Fundraising drive for MND and Offaly homeless

Post by Bord na Mona man » Mon Jan 13, 2020 12:22 pm

A very powerful interview with Paddy Fenning in Saturday's Indo. Unfortunately Paddy recently found out he is suffering from MND, however his stoicism is remarkable given the circumstances.

Link to his fundraiser: ... y-homeless

'I've accepted it. Like, why not me? Why should it be somebody else?' - Offaly legend opens up on life-changing illness

A two-time All-Ireland winning footballer with his native Offaly, in 1971 and ’72, Tullamore’s Paddy Fenning is coming to terms with his motor neurone diagnosis. As his body comes under attack, he is determined to follow in the footsteps of his ‘inspiration’, Fr Tony Coote, by raising funds for research into the merciless condition

Vincent Hogan

January 11 2020

He remembers the first time his body started talking to him differently. Just this murmured sensation down his left side and a fluttering in his leg as if some tiny creature was trapped beneath the skin.

Paddy Fenning mentioned it to Kathryn, this "strangest feeling" and, within minutes, she had him down the road in Tullamore hospital.

For three days they did all the conventional cardiac tests, but they were chasing an invisible demon here. It would be three months before delivery of the diagnosis that re-arranged their world so profoundly, yet Paddy says flatly: "I reckon that was the moment that my body changed!"

Though motor neurone is slowly thieving the coherence from his voice now, he avoids the acid taste of anger.

"I have accepted it," he says simply. "Like, why not me? Why should it be somebody else?"

Every now and then laughter even slices through the conversation as Fenning talks of his determination that the victims of this strange, pitiless condition never become a silent army.

The fury with which it has swept down on their lives, though, is jolting to consider. Just last June, he and Kathryn were in Girona, exploring the famous Roman walls, their lives tuned to a perfectly tranquil frequency. She'd occasionally notice his slurring of words, but it was - she reckoned - little more than a native carelessness.

"Paddy, at the best of times, would run over his words," Kathryn says. "Something we do in Offaly. Nearly talking too slow. He doesn't absorb Vitamin B12 either and he was due injections. We thought it was just age."

Others imagined a more innocent genesis. Attending the Offaly-Laois All-Ireland qualifier in June, he was asked by one former comrade if, maybe, he'd been "on the beer". That same day, he chatted amiably to friend and former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, who - within a week - would fall gravely ill himself.

The natural kinship when old teams gather tends to be rinsed of overly serious interaction, yet something in Paddy's subconscious the day of Eugene McGee's wake one month earlier had moved him to tell Dr Pat O'Neill that he wasn't, as he puts it, "in great shape".

Paddy, you see, played 11 seasons for Offaly footballers, winning All-Ireland medals in '71 and '72. In time, his career brought him into painful contact with Kevin Heffernan's resurgent Dublin and some of the most celebrated man-markers known to the game. Yet, it brought deep friendships too that ran far beyond county lines. O'Neill's is maybe the best of them.

"Lovely fella," he says now with a silken grin. "But a different fella on the pitch. He'd say 'Cut them today lads, I'll stitch them tomorrow!' (laughing). Like I never had a problem taking a belt in a match. Tony McTague used to say to me 'You get the frees Fenning, I'll put them over'.

"It suited me because I was fairly brave. And I always preferred stand-up fellas like O'Neill, be it with club or county. I mean Gay O'Driscoll would take your life! I marked Tommy Drumm, Georgie Wilson, all of those. But we had great time for one another.

"My last inter-county game (the 1980 All-Ireland semi-final), I was marked by Páidí Ó Sé!"

Once, in the mid-1970s, Fenning was the only non-Dublin forward on a Leinster Railway Cup final team, something that - to this day - fills him with a sense of pride.

But he knows, too, that his story dips back into an era that must seem, at best, quaintly whimsical to younger generations today. Paddy, after all, made his senior Offaly debut in London 50 years ago, scoring a goal against Mayo in the old, long-gone 'Wembley Tournament'. The game was broadcast live on RTÉ, Kathryn - already his longtime girlfriend - permitted to watch it on a tiny black and white television in the science lab of the convent she was attending.

It was a time when the GAA's hypocrisies ran rampantly through young lives.

The notorious 'Ban' was still in place, yet - after that game at Wembley - the players were wined and dined at The Oval cricket ground. Just a few weeks later, Fenning attended a rugby dance in Birr on the invitation of his future father-in-law, Oliver McGlinchey, of whom there is a bronze bust in Tullamore Rugby Club today, where he served as an active member for over 70 years.

When a photographer took Paddy's picture that night in Birr, Oliver had to intervene to ensure it wasn't carried in the local newspapers.

But then Fenning's early story would carry its share of unorthodox edges. Playing senior football for Tullamore at just 17, he had been drafted onto the Offaly panel within two years and was soon facing the cruel rites of passage for a townie in a largely rural environment.

His first night at senior training, he remembers being rattled by a huge hit from Paddy 'The Iron Man' McCormack. Fenning's instant retaliation was, above all, an act of survival.

"At the time, Tullamore lads would have been considered kind of beans and chips men rather than bacon and cabbage," he chuckles. "So I had to stand my ground. I was only 19 and McCormack called me 'a pup'. But I just said to him 'Paddy, you're not going to be f***ing hitting me here without being given it back!'"

He subsequently played wing-forward in the 1970 Leinster final when Offaly blew a 10-point half-time lead against Meath, taking what he remembers as "a bit of a roasting" from the great Pat Reynolds.

One year later, he played in Offaly's opening Leinster Championship game against Longford before departing on a pre-planned holiday with Kathryn to Spain. The holiday meant that he missed the next round against Laois, something that incensed team-manager, Fr Tom Gillooly, and his assistant, Alo Kelly.

"Going to Spain in '71 was like going to Mars," he remembers. "I was seen as a bit of an upstart, going off like that and coming back into training in Edenderry then with my townie brown legs. Fr Gillooly ignored me for a whole month after, feeling I'd let the boys down."

He never did win a starting place back that year, being used consistently as substitute as Offaly claimed their first ever senior All-Ireland. But Paddy was ever-present 12 months later, scoring a goal with a speculative delivery from 50-yards out in a comprehensive All-Ireland final win over Kerry that would signal the last Croke Park playing appearances of Mick O'Connell and Mick O'Dwyer.

One year later, Offaly retained their Leinster crown only to fall to Galway at the All-Ireland semi-final stage, at which point Heffo and Dublin came barrelling into their lives.

A late Leslie Deegan point beat Offaly in '74 and, thereafter, they were in virtual free-fall until McGee's arrival as the decade closed. Accordingly, Fenning says he actually values his 1980 Leinster medal above those two Celtic Crosses.

At that Offaly-Laois game last June, Cowen asked him how many years he'd played under McGee.

"I played in 1980," he replied simply.

After that?

Fenning retired from inter-county following that year's All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kerry, a game in which the great Matt Connor scored 2-9. It meant that, two years later, he was sitting up the back of the Hogan Stand when Seamus Darby scored the GAA's most famous goal.

Still just 32, had he - maybe - some mixed feelings?

"No I didn't," he says categorically. "I'd drawn a line in the sand with it. Like Eugene McGee didn't retire me, I retired myself. I'd been there for 11 years. And when I won those two All-Irelands, I suppose I thought I'd be getting them like Smarties. I didn't realise how hard it was to get up those steps.

"But every year under McGee, the team started doing better. Funny thing is, had I stayed on, I would definitely have been brought on (in the '82 final) instead of Darby! And I often get onto him about that goal now (laughing).

"I tell him, 'Sure anyone can score from 13 yards out, I got one from 50 in '72 against the breeze!"

His playing days over, Paddy Fenning immersed himself in a myriad of local fund-raising projects, including one to erase the debt on Tullamore GAA's social centre across the road from O'Connor Park (involving a tour of the US by the '71/'72 All-Ireland winning group); another raising €200,000 to purchase a CAT scan for the hospital as well as schemes to ensure the town had an arts centre and municipally-owned swimming pool.

In 2011, his selflessness towards those projects resulted in Fenning being named Offaly Person of the Year. And, in spite of personal circumstance now, that quality is undiminished.

Paddy always had a gently superficial understanding of motor neurones. He'd read a biography of David Niven, the famously refined English film star who died of the condition in his 70s. He knew the story of Stephen Hawking. An old teammate from that Offaly group of '71/'72, Larry Coughlan, fell victim to it too. As did another friend, Liam Connolly.

But it was mid-July in The Hermitage when, by process of elimination, reality began to dawn.

Paddy remembers asking the neurologist flatly: "Is it Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis or motor neurone?" The reply proved stark, albeit without the candour of certainty.

"Well, it's not the first two," he was told.

"I didn't get a shock" he says now.

"Well, we hoped against hope" Kathyrn interjects softly.

"It didn't have a huge effect on me, honestly," Paddy adds.

"It did on me," says Kathryn.

"No, I was prepared for it," he stresses.

He thinks now that, maybe, there were gentle, even spiritual signals in his life. While visiting his daughter, Amy, and her family in Dublin, he always liked to attend Mass in Mount Merrion where he became familiar with Father Tony Coote. One day, Fr Coote appeared on the altar in a wheelchair.

"What happened, did he have an accident?" Fenning remembers asking a parishioner.

"No," he was told. "It's motor neurone."

Then, last December 12 months, Paddy watched the RTÉ documentary, 'Walking The Walk', on Fr Coote's fund-raising walk from Letterkenny to Ballydehob to raise money and awareness of MND. By the end of the journey, an astounding half-a-million euro had been raised, facilitating - among other things - the employment of just a fourth specialist MND nurse for what is estimated, at any given time, to be 400 patients in Ireland.

He recorded the documentary, watching it back a number of times after. To this day, he hasn't erased it.

"To me, Father Tony Coote was an inspiration," he says now.

One whose example Paddy Fenning intends to follow.

To this end, he has mobilised a large group of local people with the idea of a charity walk next summer to raise a hoped-for €150,000, two thirds to go to MND research, the other third to go - via the Simon Community - to Offaly's homeless. The plan is that two groups, one starting in Ballycommon, the other in Pullough, will walk along the banks of the Grand Canal, meeting at Kilbeggan Bridge before proceeding to the GAA centre in Tullamore.

He hopes others might follow his example and it could, in time, become a countrywide project.

Already, the kitchen table is under siege from paperwork as Paddy makes his plans, stressing simply of Coote: "That man's legacy is going to continue as far as I'm concerned."

Just one thing has been niggling Fenning. The words 'Go Fund Me'.

"I don't like that term," he says. "Because it sounds like it's going to fund Paddy Fenning. The three words I'd prefer would be 'Fund the Project'. Not me. Every cent has to be accounted for."

Paddy Fenning's walk in aid of motor neurone disease research and homeless causes will take place in Tullamore on Sunday, June 7 and will be launched at the Tullamore Court Hotel on Saturday, February 1. Donations can be made through the following link to Go Fund Me: ... 52475.html

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Re: Paddy Fenning interview - Fundraising drive for MND and Offaly homeless

Post by shannonbanks14 » Mon Jan 13, 2020 2:50 pm

One of our greats, a very sad story of a guy who seems like a pure gentleman. Fair play Paddy keep on fightin!

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Re: Paddy Fenning interview - Fundraising drive for MND and Offaly homeless

Post by Tmacmahon » Wed Jan 22, 2020 4:19 pm

A really powerful Interview

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