Life teaches Donaghy how crucial it is to make right call
SOMETHING as mundane as avoiding roadworks proved to be the difference between life and death for Kieran Donaghy's cousin.
A fortnight ago, 13-year-old Ronan Fitzgerald picked up a bang to the head in the warm-up for a rugby match. It was initially thought to be nothing out of the ordinary, but when his condition worsened he was brought to Tralee hospital, where doctors wanted him transferred to Cork – quickly.
The ambulance rushed the youngster from Tralee, and a relation (who is a garda) ensured they weren't delayed at road-works in Mallow. It made a life-saving difference.
"The doctors in Cork reckon in another three to six minutes and he'd have been in serious trouble," Donaghy recalls. "But they were brilliant. So were the staff in Tralee Hospital. We're very grateful."
Switching the conversation to football seems somehow unworthy. But three seasons have passed since Kerry last won the All-Ireland. It's hardly a famine, but it's the longest Donaghy has gone without Sam Maguire since his debut in 2005.
There are two ways of looking at their form in recent seasons. One is that the side that reached six consecutive All-Ireland finals from 2004 to 2009 is breaking up and that there is an inevitable period of transition.
The other is that, for the most part, over the last decade or so, they've either won the All-Ireland or fallen to the team that did.
That includes this year, when they bowed out to Donegal by two points in a result that suggests they are not far away. Donaghy prefers the glass half-full version.
"The raw materials are still there 100pc," argues the Liberty Insurance ambassador. "Of course, we've lost Darragh O Se, Tommy Walsh, Tadhg Kennelly and Seamus Moynihan, but that happens every team. That's the way life goes, every team loses those players.
"But the main core of our experienced players are around 28, 29 and 30, so we are in our prime – we are in a great position. The young fellas have to drive us and we have to bring them on. But the team is definitely there."
This season has been largely forgettable. The win over Tyrone was a highlight. It help close a wound that seeped through the 2000s, but even that result brought its own heat. Kerry adopted a style that drew criticism from inside and outside the county.
"The one game where we did play slightly negative was against Tyrone and we got desperate coverage in the media afterwards. The fact was that people said: 'Oh Kerry are doing this and Kerry were pulling jerseys and standing in front of lads trying to take frees. We have to write about this.' And there was a hullaballoo for a few days. But if you looked around that weekend, the exact same thing was going on in all the other games that were played.
"It was talked about as the most cynical game of all time. But it was only doing to them what they did to us over the years, which was to get in their face and play the tougher part of the game where you make it difficult for them and stop the quick free being taken.
"We got so much grief that we went away from it for the next game. We didn't need to do it against Clare, but by the time the Donegal game came around, we were playing the kind of football we played against Clare and that's where we fell down."
For much of last season, Kerry existed somewhere between their traditional game and a renewed emphasis on ball retention. Critics pointed to Donaghy's deployment away from his regular posting on the edge of the square as an example of how traditional values had been betrayed, but the Austin Stacks man believes Kerry simply have to move with the times.
"That was more coming from 2011 when I didn't have a good semi-final against Mayo. Jack (O'Connor) was almost forced to move me out to the wing to get me on the ball, to get my confidence back – even though, in my own head, my confidence was fine.
"But at the time it was either that or be dropped, so I was delighted. I started well out there and then got moved into the square, got a few balls and there was talk in Kerry afterwards asking why I didn't start in there. It's about getting the balance right.
"If you look at the All-Ireland final. Donegal went early into Michael Murphy and that reaped dividends. If you are slow in your build-up, ball retention can kill you. They found that balance.
"Supporters want to see catch and kick football, but if every team in all sports played the way the fans want you to play – it's just not a real situation."
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has met the squad and prehabilitation programmes are in place.
New blood has been introduced, but footballers are measured in medals in Kerry, something the young guns fall down on – for the time being.
"I don't think its fair on the young fellas to say: 'Ah they haven't won an All-Ireland.' We haven't won one in three years and they might be in for three years. That's as much our fault as their fault and they are probably unlucky not to have won in 2011.
"Their attitude to training is very good and they will do what needs to be done. I remember when I came in and they were talking about sports psychology and Darragh O Se going: 'I don't need any fella from Dublin telling me how to prepare for a game,' but that attitude is going away.
"I'm 29 and there are other older lads like Tomas (O Se) who have all these new things and you either get on board and go with it or not bother at all.
"And the days of not bothering and doing your own thing are gone. The mantra for us this year is 'one-in, all-in'."