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Farewell Pat Malaniff


The late Pat Malaniff.

It was about this time last week that the news began to spread that Pat Malaniff had left us. A warm balmy Saturday in the height of the GAA summer, Pat's favourite time of year. And he would have enjoyed this one. Donegal doing their first ever Ulster championship double, with Aodh Ruadh men playing a prominent part in the minor triumph. Of course the club seniors flying high and gunning for promotion was proving a great source of pleasure for him too.

As the news sank in it seemed somehow unjust that he would not be here to see how the summer's drama would unfold as the year mellowed.

A native of Mullies townland in Manorhamilton Pat came to Ballyshannon in his late teens. Decades later he would still mildly deprecate himself as a blow-in, it was something of a standing joke in latter years, as he would invariably have lived longer in the town than most of the people he was talking would have been alive.

His involvement with the club began in earnest in the 1960s when he got involved in club events, matches, AGMs, and all the other ruaille buaille that went with the heady times of the St Joseph's era.

He worked first with White's, but in the main he earned his crust doing hardware deliveries, first with John Myles, then with Heiton's. It was a job that took him up the many highways and byways of Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo. Pat's approach was relaxed and he could always afford the time to chat, particularly if the chat was GAA related. That personal touch meant Pat built commercial relations that would last. Where a man more concerned with deadlines might have got the job done quicker, the opportunity to debate with Pat the latest championship game would have swung much return trade.

And relaxed though he might have been, Pat was also diligent. One of his stand-out qualities was his instant agreement to put the shoulder to the wheel when the club needed something done. Because of his readiness to help he became an almost permanent presence at Father Tierney Park over the past 20 years, helping to prepare for games and meetings.

That diligence and personability came into its own when the club did a major fund-raising draw in 2007. Pat scoured the county selling tickets, up the country through the likes of Glenties and Ardara he went offering the opportunity to win a Nissan Almera. With Pat on the job it was a process that took an long time, he seemed to know every door the sales team called at. The benefits of those deliveries over the years coming to the fore. Every encounter was accompanied by a long chat about this and that. But it was time well invested, for when he left the door of the house he always had the price of a ticket or three in his paw.

That was typical of the kind of work Pat did.

It would be no exaggeration to say he was one of the mainstays the club. He was always about the Park, observing, joking, commenting. An average day for Pat was spent opening up, setting up the kitchen, watching the match below, serving refreshments after the event. No one who came through the gate was missed and everyone who passed the gate into Father Tierney Park was served tea by Pat at some point or another.

He was, quite literally, a key man in the club, access to dressing rooms, gates and the Aras was his role. Be it for an under 8 tournament or an NFL game attended by thousands, Pat was there, first man in, last man out. Anyone who arrived up to the club and had forgot their keys only had to call. "I'll be up, in a minute," was the ready reply.

For a student of the game who watched thousands of hours of football and hurling he was a hard man to satisfy. His match reports were the stuff of myth, a Ballyshannon win would earn the baleful response, "Ahhh sure they missed a sight!" And as for defeats, well put it like this, Pat never liked to see the Aodh Ruadh flag lowered.

In latter years Pat took great pleasure in Donegal's glory days and he was very assiduous about ensuring he got quality seats for the big games as befitted a man of his standing. And after those magnificent victories the visits of the Anglo Celt and Sam Maguire to the Aras never failed to bring a boyish gleam to his eye. Those were the kind of days that Pat lived for.

It was inevitable that Pat would be recognised as club man of the year, but then there wouldn't have been many years when Pat wasn't a leading candidate for that particular accolade.

One of the unseen tasks that Pat took upon himself was welcoming new faces to the club. Maybe it was because he still regarded himself at one level as a blow-in that he was able to empathise with those who were new to the club. He would sit them down with a cup of tea, chat to them and make sure they felt at home. It isn't necessarily a natural thing to make the effort to reach out the hand and set someone at their ease. That was a gift Pat had. His was a warm, open inclusive approach to life and people.

Pat's time spanned a period of great change in the GAA. As was correctly pointed out at his wake, there was a time in most clubs when the club was just about the senior team. Now clubs are all-encompassing community resources. Pat was one of the people at the forefront of that change. What Pat was contributing was community capital, he was enriching the people around him using the unique gifts that God had given him. He was a monument to the great organisation the GAA has become.

Aodh Ruadh record our sincerest sympathies to the Malaniff family, his wife Ursula, his daughter Denise and sons Pauric, Bernard, Sean and Kevin and his sister Peg on their personal loss. We should also thank the family for loaning us Pat for all those years, for behind a man like Pat there is a family keeping the show on the road, allowing him to make his contribution to the wider community.

One of those who walked through the door of their wee house at the foot of the Rock was Martin McHugh, the peerless artist of Donegal football. One could well imagine how pleased Pat would have been that Wee Martin came to his house, and the spin he would have been putting on the story were he able to talk about it later. It would have kept us creased with laughter for ages. In the end all you really have are the memories and Pat left us with plenty of good ones.

Perhaps one of the strongest tributes to Pat was made by the senior footballers, many of them young men who wouldn't have known a time when Pat wasn't standing behind the hatch doling out buns, teas and good-natured banter.

They didn't need to be told, they knew the importance of this man to the club. Unbidden, they mobilised and marshalled the guard of honour. They helped carry his coffin. They were with him every step of the short journey from his home at the foot of the Rock to his final resting place. That small kindness would have meant the world to Pat.

And so now Pat lies at his well-earned rest in the quiet little graveyard of St Joseph's. On the floodlit winter nights, the teeming spring evenings, the heady summer afternoons and the crisp autumn days the sounds of Ballyshannon players going through their paces, trying their hearts out in Páirc Aoidh Ruadh will reach him at his rest. We know he would have found rich contentment in that. His legacy will live on, because the club as we know it drew on his best qualities and made them part of the fabric. All associated with Aodh Ruadh will miss him dearly. His ready smile, his easy way, his kindness of heart.

Ar dheis DĂ© go raibh a anam uasal.

Last modified: Monday, 1 June 2020 at 12:12pm