Fond memories of a coach, mentor, friend and colleague.
I first came to know Pat through involvement with Ayrfield Athletic Club. The first Annual General meeting of Ayrfield Athletic Club took place in St. Paul’s School on Friday 27th May 1983. The idea of setting up a club was first mooted by Tony Boylan and on 12th September 1984 Pat O’Keeffe came on board, and as they say the rest is history. At this stage Tony had taken a back seat and John Davis had become chairman. I have many fond memories of being involved with the club, travelling to places like Dunleer Co. Louth, Riverstick Co. Cork for cross country races, Moyne for All Ireland’s, Nenagh for indoor competitions, Santry Stadium for local leagues and many more places.
One of the many famous memories I have, was on the occasion of the indoor competitions in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. A large contingent of athletes, accompanied by parents, trainers and coaches, had booked into bed and breakfast in nearby Borrisoleigh, my home town. After a visit to the local chipper, the athletes were sent to bed, as we had an early start in the morning. After a few bevvies, it was time for the coaches and parents to retire for the night. One particular parent, who shall remain anonymous, came back down to the bar in her slippers. The innkeeper Harry told her to go to bed, and to “knock three times on the ceiling if you want me”. The following morning, Pat awoke to the sound of the church bell ringing across the road and on hearing this Pat said he thought he was in heaven. In 1985 Michael Hartnett joined the club, and now these three gentlemen, John, Michael and Pat are running races with St. Peter in charge. On your marks, get set, go.
As I trawled through past issues of The Ayrfield Echo, I was reminded that Community Games was set up in Ayrfield in 1981. Pat was a great ambassador for the games and many of us remember how Ayrfield was great in 1988, when Ayrfield won the overall club award. Ayrfield parish resounded as the gallant victors returned home from Santry Stadium on that occasion.
Pat will forgive me for being so long winded in my appreciation. Pat was a gentleman, true and true and what he did for the children of Ayrfield and further afield, will never be forgotten. At one stage there were over one hundred athletes involved in the club.
I looked at one of Pat’s prized photographs on his mantelpiece, in which Pat presented a medal to his grandson Cian, this had captured a very special moment. My own son Fintan is still very involved in running, often meeting Pat at various events. Fintan’s daughter Lily, won the under nine All Ireland Cross Country this year and so the baton is handed down through the generations.
The presentation of medals for club sports etc. usually took place in St. Paul’s School. The Club Disco was always a great night. At the end of one particular night, parents stayed back to help with the clean-up, while Pat and Michael Hartnett availed of beverages from a flask. We never knew whether it was Lyons or Barry’s tea or maybe something stronger!! Whatever it was, it was truly earned.
Many tributes were paid to Pat, from family and friends. A special tribute was conveyed by a representative from Athletics Ireland as Pat undertook his last lap of honour. Slán go fóil.
Condolences to Pat’s wife Mary, daughters Margaret and Sinead and son Thomas. Their support for Pat was never ending as he gave of his time and his talents for our community.
Following his passing in August 2022 memories of Pat came racing back. Pat is remembered for being kind, and like all the other coaches, selfless with his time and energy for the young people in his care. As adults now with families and busy lives of their own they can appreciate how much Pat and others like him gave to Ayrfield Athletic Club.
Pat was there week in week out, his car filled with young athletes being ferried to training, cross country meets, Santry Stadium and many other venues far and wide. Fond memories of the treat of apple tart after training at Newbridge House. There was the odd hiccup along the way, like the door of the escort falling off, which just added to the drama and excitement of our youth. Pat had a great smile, never bigger than when he told his young passengers that if they didn’t pay the toll on the East Link that the bridge would open and they would fall in…. We know someone who fell for this!
A debt of gratitude is owed to his wife Mary, daughters Margaret and Sinead and son Thomas for their generosity in supporting Pat as he did his wonderful work for our community.
In conclusion, one of the loveliest sentiments about Pat was that he had a brilliant rapport with the young athletes. He was like a big cuddly cushion, always there, quiet and dependable. Always ready to encourage and support regardless of the outcome.
Let’s finish with this quote from gymnast Mary Lou Retton:
“A trophy carries dust. Memories last forever”
Pat was a highly respected and much loved coach and organiser in the Ayrfield Athletic Club from its beginnings in our Parish.
With his friendly and easy manner, he was especially popular with the younger club members. In his unique and quiet way, he inspired the children to be the best they could be, and in an enjoyable and happy manner.
Always smiling and in good humour his influence contributed hugely to the club, and no doubt to the success of many of its members in their careers in later life.
Pat’s old friends on the Ayrfield Athletic Club Committee are greatly saddened by his passing.
B.W. and T.W.