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Wee Paul – A Legend in his own time

psThe Death of Paul Keaveney, affectionately known to all as “Wee Paul”, at the age of 68 has brought to a premature end the life of one of the outstanding personalities in local football.

Although he had been ill for some months the news of his death in the Erne Hospital late last Tuesday evening still came as a shock and even when I saw his remains reposing in his late residence on Wednesday evening I still found it hard to accept that a legendary life had ended.

While I had anticipated this day the sense of loss was no less and this sense of loss was universal when the news began to spread that he had gone to his eternal reward, his determined battle with cancer at an end, the “wee man” at peace. He is an immense loss to the game and to a host of friends but no one will miss him more than his brothers Pat, Fearghal, Declan and Marius, his sisters Pauline and Kathleen and large family circle. The attendance at his funeral bore striking testimony to the esteem in which he was held by his colleagues and by many others from a wide diversity of sports. Glowing tributes continue to pour in for the iconic Enniskillen Town United man – “he was a one off – the likes of which we will not see again” Wee Paul was struck down by a very serious illness in 2008 and initially made a good recovery. Unfortunately he suffered a recurrence some months ago that was to prove terminal. He bore his suffering with great dignity and though far from well he never complained – fortified to the end by his devout faith.

Wee Paul was a man with a very cheerful disposition and he went through life with a smile and enjoyed each day of it. He was invariably in good humour and made friends easily. It was totally in character that he had agreed to attend Town’s 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner in the Killyhevlin Hotel at the end of May and although he could not be with us in person he was certainly there with us in spirit. Just two weeks ago I, along with Brian and Gerard McClintock, visited him in the Erne Hospital. We were shocked when we saw him. Although he recognised us and was able to firmly shake our hands he was unable to communicate. His voice was silent. Now sadly it is silent forever. Days later he lost the battle so many had hoped he would win with the unstinting support, love and devotion he got from his family.

From an early age Wee Paul revealed an aptitude for sport that was to find expression on the local playing fields. Proficient at both Soccer and Gaelic Football he chose the former and it was as a footballer that he achieved considerable distinction. He began with the now defunct Enniskillen Corinthians where he was an important member of their treble winning side of 1970-71. He joined Town on Corinthians’ demise and enjoyed brief spell with Enniskillen Rangers in their Intermediate League sojourn and with Roadhouse in their promotion years of 1976 and 1977 before returning to his first love – Town. He was the consummate sportsman. There wasn’t a mean sinew in his body and even when faced with cynical opposition he regarded good discipline as a matter of honour. He was unbelievably competitive, enjoyed the utmost respect and friendship of all his opponents and although you never knew it he was always getting on to Referees under his breath! He was a shrewd judge of a player’s ability and while there is no doubt that he had quality material to work with they would never have fulfilled their potential without him. Wee Paul will always be associated with the Youth Section of Town to which he contributed so much.

Together with John Illand and myself he helped to develop and nurture our underage players and he was always on hand to offer his words of advice and encouragement. He was a shrewd judge of a player’s ability and while there is no doubt that he had quality material to work with they would never have fulfilled their potential without him. Town sent out a succession of excellent players, many of whom went on to play at a higher level, but nothing pleased him more than seeing so many of his protégés help “Town” win the Irish Junior Cup in 1994 and 2007. Over the years thousands of youngsters benefited from his instruction and guidance – he was more like a parent than a coach – and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for the countless hours he spent imparting the skills of the game to so many young people, all of whom subsequently benefited in their personal development and at various levels of football achievement. Wee Paul always underestimated his contribution but others didn’t as was evidenced in 1992 when he was presented with the Fermanagh Sports Advisory Committee’s Services To Sport Award. He was honoured for his contribution to Town in 2000 when he became the first inductee into the Club’s Hall of Fame Award and two years later he became the second winner of the Brendan Keogh Youth League’s Services To Sport Award. In 2008 he became the inaugural recipient of the Fermanagh Herald’s Contribution To Sport Award.

It is a striking testimony of Wee Paul’s service to Town that Club jerseys will henceforth bear his name as a tribute to his singularly brilliant contribution. It is a fitting memorial to a man who through good times and bad never lost his faith and enthusiasm for the Club. Wee Paul was an outstanding role model in his enthusiastic and committed approach to all aspects of his life. In his service to his family, and in particular to his mother Mary-Anne, he was exemplary. In his fair and honest approach to the game he stood above all. His devout faith, attention to detail and aversion to swearing are well known to all.

He selflessly gave of himself and many have reason to appreciate his unobtrusive generosity. He was a man of total integrity and steadfast principles. He was a man of very quiet disposition who always maintained a quiet dignity that endeared him to everybody. He was man of great warmth, modesty and unfailing courtesy. He was a man we should all strive to emulate. Wee Paul was a man with a very cheerful disposition and he went through life with a smile and enjoyed each day of it. He was invariably in good humour and made friends easily. He valued his friends and they were many and they valued him. It was never less than a pleasure to meet him. He embellished any gathering in which he was present. He was a most genial companion and he had the capacity to mix with young and old with equal facility and this attribute was widely recognised in the Club and among the many friends he made in the sporting arena generally. Almost everyone has their own story about Wee Paul and many is the story that has been told about him in the Club where he is remembered with great affection. His popularity embraced the whole Club and every age group in it. He was truly a legend in his own time and will be for generations to come.

There is now a void in the soul of his beloved Town but he has left us a wonderful legacy. His loss was felt before his sad passing. We probably depended on him too much and have struggled to come to grips with coaching within the Club when he was unable to contribute as much as he had. We could never replace him. We know that but there is a duty on all of us to nurture the legacy he left us and pass on what we can to the generations that will follow.

Wee Paul we are all proud of you.

An Interview with Paul from 1993 can be viewed here.

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