Paddy Smith died on Saturday. Paddy had not been well for some time and though his passing did not come as a surprise, it still felt like a shock. He was only in his fifties and that's far too young an age to leave this world. For his family, the loss is enormous while for the rest of us, those of us who grew up at McNeela Terrace and those who watched him play football, there's a feeling of deep sadness that one so young could be taken away so early. Paddy Smith was not just one of the
finest footballers ever to wear the red and black of Westport United; he was one of the finest junior footballers of all time. Indeed, so prodigious was his talent that had he been playing today, or living and playing the game in Dublin when he was in his teenage years, he would almost certainly have been a professional footballer at the highest level.
He was THAT good. He had the classic 'educated left foot', though not, like so many fellow left footers, unable to use his right when the need arose.
However, because his positioning sense was so good and he knew how to read the game, Paddy seldom got himself into the wrong position and he hardly ever had to resort to kicking the ball with his right.
Paddy wasn't the biggest or strongest footballer in the world. He wasn't the quickest either and I don't think I'm disclosing any secrets by saying that he didn't exactly enjoy training.
But none of that mattered. He was, as Jimmy Magee said about Maradona, 'different class'.
Brian McNally used to tell a story about the day he made his debut for Westport Crusaders and Paddy was playing up front alongside Kevin Curry. Just before the game, Kevin came up to Brian and, probably unwittingly but so tellingly, summed up what it meant to have Paddy in the team - 'You feed me, I feed Paddy, Paddy scores' - was the instruction from Kevin Curry.
Eight words, uttered many, many years ago, but eight words that capture the essence of the man's talent.
Like quite a few of his generation, Paddy didn't capture the silverware his talent deserved. However, in the season 1987/88, when Westport United won the Connaught Cup, he finally got his hands on the trophy that had eluded him.
He was a colossus in that team. And that was no mean feat. John Herrick had arrived from Galway as manager and he had built a unique team. Paddy was at the heart of that side.
Herrick knew that Paddy was never going to be his best trainer but he had complete trust in him as a footballer. By then, Paddy had moved to central defence and he made defending look so easy.
He had this ability to know where the ball would be before the ball ever arrived. It's called reading the game. He could organise a defence like few others before him or since and he had this habit of pointing to the exact bit of ground where he wanted his defenders to stand.
Paddy didn't play an awful lot after winning the Connaught Cup. It was as if he had landed the big one and he was happy with his lot. It was a pity because he had so much talent that he could have played on for years.
But he left some amazing footballing memories behind him. Who could ever forget that shimmy, the drop of the shoulder that left so many opponents floundering?
The image that keeps coming back though is from that Connaught Cup final against West United when the Galway team were piling on the pressure and looking for the equaliser in the last few minutes. It was heart in mouth time for everyone from Westport, well, that is, everyone bar Paddy.
I can still see this long ball being played deep into the United defence towards Paddy and he had the presence of mind to simply flick the ball off the top of his head and back into the hands of Ollie Cunningham. He physically could not have seen where Ollie was but his footballing intellect made the decision for him.
That summed Paddy up as a footballer. Ninety nine point nine per cent of defenders would just have headed the ball away, though in the process giving the ball back to the opposition.
Paddy's footballing brain allowed him think differently. He knew the importance of keeping the ball and with time running out there was no better place for the ball to be than in the hands of the goalkeeper.
What a beautiful talent Paddy Smith possessed. In the pantheon of great Westport United footballers, he's right up there at the very top.
To all who mourn his passing, our deepest and sincere sympathies. His likes may never come our way again.