Tullamore GAA Club reflects on Paddy Fenning's contribution to sport and society

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The late Paddy Fenning

It is with great sadness that Tullamore GAA club reflect on Paddy Fenning’s life and his significant influence and contribution on the community of Tullamore. 

There tends to be a stock of trite phrases that we instinctively reach for at times like this, perhaps diminishing their meaning and impact somewhat as a result, but Paddy Fenning added an extra layer of definition to many of the words that people are using today as they reflect on the remarkable life that he lived.

Paddy was selfless. Driven, relentlessly so. He exuded class in many different ways. But, perhaps above all, Paddy was brave. From the fearless fashion in which he played his football, right through to the manner in which he bore his illness over the past year or so.

Paddy was one of four All-Ireland senior medal winners from our club and, sadly, the first to depart us.

In addition to the All-Ireland medals he won with the ground-breaking Offaly team of 1971 and ‘72, Paddy won four Leinster medals (1971-73, 1980) and captained his county in 1978. He also won a Railway Cup with Leinster in 1974.

Indeed, it was 50 years ago this month that Paddy played his first senior game for Offaly, scoring a goal against Mayo at Wembley Stadium in the tournament that was staged annually at the home of English soccer at the time.

An industrious forward, who scored the game-breaking goal in the 1972 replay defeat of Kerry, Paddy was unflinching in the robust physical exchanges that typified the era that he played in.

“I never had a problem taking a belt in a match,” he remarked to journalist Vincent Hogan in a widely-acclaimed interview carried by the Irish Independent earlier this year. “Tony McTague used to say to me 'You get the frees Fenning, I'll put them over'.”

His contribution to our club was long and varied, with his underage career blossoming under the tutelage of the late Jerry Conway, a man whose impact on the success he enjoyed was lauded by Paddy at every opportunity. 

With Tullamore, his standout achievements as a player were the county senior medals he won in 1973 and ‘77. He coached numerous underage teams and managed our senior footballers for a spell in the 1980s.

If Paddy Fenning’s legacy was framed in a sporting context only, it would be rich with colour, yet the hue was all the more vivid for his contribution in various other areas. A man of many parts, Paddy’s fingerprints were daubed all over many projects in the wider community.

He was a driving force behind the club’s tour of the US in 1985, a mammoth undertaking which doubled up as a fundraiser to clear the club’s debt arising from the construction of the social centre in the early 1970s, while he was also a chairman of the O’Brien Park development project. 

He put his weight behind many notable local projects, like the Friends of Tullamore Hospital, helping to raise hundreds of thousands to provide a CAT scan in the 1990s; he was heavily involved in the cause to provide a swimming pool for Tullamore and one of his more recent undertakings involved the provision of an arts centre for the town, an enterprise that was nearing its conclusion. 

In 1993, he produced a book, ‘Offaly - The Faithful County, A Pictorial History of the Football Years’.

He was a social powerhouse too, organising many memorable club reunions as well as annual holidays with his former Offaly teammates and their families stretching over a long number of years.

With all of that in mind, he was a most worthy winner of the Offaly Person of the Year award in 2011.

His can-do attitude was never more prevalent than in the final year of his life. Last year, Paddy was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, a progressive neurological condition that attacks the motor neurones, or nerves, in the brain and spinal cord. 

"I have accepted it," Paddy told Vincent Hogan. "Like, why not me? Why should it be somebody else?"

As yet, the disease has no cure though Paddy immediately set about advancing that cause, assembling a group of local people with the aim of raising €150,000, to be split three ways between research of the condition, support services for those who suffer from it, as well as homeless causes in Offaly.

The launch night last February at the Tullamore Court Hotel was a tremendous success, with a 700-strong crowd turning out in a touching show of support. They were regaled with tales from his footballing contemporaries Seamus Darby, Pat O’Neill, Pauric McShea and Johnny Hughes, with Paddy, surrounded by his family in the front row, deriving great enjoyment from the exchanges.

The fundraising drive was due to culminate in a walk along the banks of the Grand Canal in Tullamore on June 7 next, though the event had to be postponed recently in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

In the last week of his life, Paddy was heartened to learn that the €50,000 mark had been passed despite fundraising activity largely grinding to a halt in recent months.

It now behoves all of us who knew and loved Paddy Fenning to ensure that that target is met and that an already gleaming legacy sparkles that little bit more.

Our deepest condolences to Paddy’s loving wife Kathryn, daughter Amy, son Barry, grandchildren and wider family.

May he rest in peace.