Kielty at the St Patrick's Parade in London with deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes.
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'Confidence and the bloody brass neck' - Patrick Kielty, the Down All-Ireland winner

Impromptu stand-up skit as a 16-year-old in front of Larry Tompkins, Sean Boylan and Colm O’Rourke was the start of the road to stardom.

LAST WEEKEND’S OPENING routine on The Late Late Show, where Patrick Kielty took on a few sacred cows and brought genuine humour, bridged a gap of 36 years since he first took to his feet to entertain a crowd in Dublin.

Back then, September 1987, he was in the Burlington Hotel.

The crowd in front of him might have intimidated some. Billy Morgan, Sean Boylan, Teddy McCarthy, Larry Tompkins, Colm O’Rourke and so on.

He was at the traditional post All-Ireland final breakfast the following day after Meath had beaten Cork. He was there as the Down minor sub goalkeeper and they had made it a miserable day for Cork as they won 1-12 to 1-5.

“Cork and Meath were in the room. All the acolytes and alickadoos were there,” recalls his team mate, Conor Deegan.

“And on that day in the Burlington, all that was expected was that a member of each team would do a skit, or tell a joke, sing a song, or do something.”

conor-deegan Kielty's minor team mate Conor Deegan. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The Down nominations list was short. Kielty had already been taking lead roles of the school concerts of Red High in Downpatrick, encouraged by the PE teacher Pat O’Hare, who would later help Pete McGrath take some of these minor players to ultimate glory with a senior All-Ireland.

“Now Paddy, at 16, stood up and gave a magnificent rendition of Micheál O’Hehir going through the games that had played out the day before. He was doing it in the style of a horse race, naming the horses Liam Hayes, Larry Tompkins and so on,” explains Deegan.

“And that’s the first we had really seen of Paddy doing that. When you are standing up talking to a room, a minute is a long time. But I think he was up there for about ten minutes.”

The young Kielty still had another two years of minor ahead of him, while his brother John had one more as well. But he got a taste for entertaining that day that wasn’t long before it was satisfied again.

Pete McGrath recalls a few weeks after the final, when the team, management and mentors gathered in a Downpatrick hotel. Peter Quinn, then Ulster GAA President, made the presentations of the All-Ireland medals.

“When all of that was done, Paddy took to the stage,” McGrath explains.

“And for about twenty minutes he regaled the parents and the boys and anyone else who was there with humour, with anecdotes from the campaign, things that he picked up on in terms of mannerisms that maybe I had or other mentors. And there was Paddy imitating these in a very, very light-hearted, gentle way.

“But he put on a show for around twenty minutes and he had the place in stitches. That was him as a 16-year-old. Confidence and the bloody brass neck. It wasn’t pre-planned. He just went up onto the stage and started this and within minutes he had everybody in the palm of his hand.”

pete-mcgrath Pete McGrath. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Was the world of entertainment’s gain, the GAA’s loss? Could Kielty have been an All-Ireland winning goalkeeper?

“He was on the minor team of ’87, and he was still U16. Played minors for two years after that,” McGrath reveals.

“Without being patronising, he was a good ‘keeper. Very reliable. Of course in those days it was just stopping the shots and kicking the ball out as long as you could.

“But he and John were very committed to the squad. Their father Jack, who of course was murdered the following year, Jack always took the boys to training, along with Martin Carey from Dundrum.

“Jack was a very enthusiastic supporter of the team and the squad. When we qualified for the final I was speaking to Jack afterwards and he was saying to me that we should get those boys something. I said if he could arrange something, I would leave it in his hands.

“We won the All Ireland and every member of the squad and management received genuinely really, really good gold-plated watches. Jack Kielty arranged that. I still have mine.

“That was the type of family they were. People who helped the team in every way. Paddy and John were really committed players and got their place the following year and Paddy was underage again for 1989. He wasn’t on the squad for no reason.”

The murder of Jack Kielty was a particularly barbaric act, even for the environment of the north at that time.

Just a few months after he had arranged for the gifts of the gold watches, he was in his office when UVF gunman Delbert Watson came in shot him.

“It was my first understanding of The Troubles at that point. He was the first person that I knew who was murdered,” recalled Deegan.

“I was at the wake and the funeral. Any murder, well, it appeared particularly barbaric in so far as we would have known Jack. We were youngsters. Jack was only 44.”

The family came through it, Paddy admitting he barely processed it before he was in college and his career took off with The Empire Comedy Club while he was studying psychology in Queen’s University.

“You hear Paddy talk, he talks with balance, talks so well and so clearly. But how they dealt with that, at that stage. How did they get through that?” asks Deegan.  

“When we went up to Belfast to College, Paddy was in The Empire. We would have gone up to it and he would have got us through the doors, back in the day!

“He was witty with it, he was good with it. His humour was Belfast humour. In the early ‘90s, it was gallows humour, which in many ways, that is gone now and well, the backdrop was the impact on his family.”

John Kielty is now the chairman of Dundrum GAC, who play at Jack Kielty Park. He plays golf with All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Neil Collins.

Sitting at home last weekend, Pete McGrath was watching his former player and his mind wandered to a photograph that was unearthed recently of an 1985 minor team. Two young boys on that team were from the same club and both were killed in separate car accidents.

“You might think that mentors and managers and selectors influence the children playing. But it works the other way as well,” he says.

“And many of those players have done great things over the years. And when you look at Paddy, who had to deal with what he had to deal with in 1988 with the murder of his father.

“To come through now, to be a national and probably international figure, presenter, comedian, chat show host, yes, it just shows that when you are working with young lads, you don’t know where the road is going to take them.

“You do your best for children at the time, but Paddy certainly left his mark on that team, and that night at the presentation, surely!”

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