Donaghy on sledging: I'm used to it from basketball - once it's not personal it's fine
Basketball background has always made Kerry's skipper feel 'different' as a footballer
Published 10/06/2015 | 02:30
He has altered the course of two championships, eight years apart, setting them both back in the path of Kerry. He has won three All-Stars. He has been a Footballer of the Year.
But Kieran Donaghy still feels the need to look over his shoulder. From time to time he still needs to question his worthiness and ask himself if his face fits.
Now, as captain of the game's most celebrated county, those questions will intensify rather than ease.
He wants it that way because of the pressure it applies. But in his own mind he has always been a "different type of footballer" just as Jack O'Connor saw himself as a 'different' coach. In that sense he's still unsure of his place in the Kingdom 'Firm'.
"I feel I have something to prove all the time when I tog out for Kerry because I'm a basketballer stroke footballer. I always have that pressure on myself that I have to perform to a high level.
"That's the way I am. I'd find something else if that wasn't the way of it. I'd find something else to have that bit of pressure on myself."
For Donaghy, that background will always set him apart somewhat, a career that essentially began in the county's lower junior leagues.
"It's such a pure kind of game in Kerry where if you're good at football, you'll be good all the way up," he explained.
"You'll be good underage, a good Kerry minor, a good Kerry U-21, you've a chance to go on to be a good Kerry senior.
"Whereas I wasn't playing football at 15, 16, 17. I was an Irish international, I was playing basketball, I was captain of my country, I was loving it. I was all basketball. Football was so far from my imagination, it wasn't even funny.
"Then at 17, getting back in with my local C team, not the B team, the C team. A bunch of boys that loved training on a Monday and Wednesday night, then play county league on a Friday night, and go on the drink for Friday, Saturday and Sunday! They were a good bunch of lads. I learned an awful lot off them."
But that changed with his visit to Croke Park to play Dublin in an All-Ireland minor semi-final in 2001. The bug bit hard that afternoon and 14 years on he now holds the highest office.
As captain he has already underlined his commitment with his swift return to action in the days after Austin Stacks' All-Ireland club semi-final defeat in February. The invitation to take a break was rebuffed for the visit of Dublin to Killarney instead.
He has always talked so captaincy can't change that aspect of his game. But he's even more conscious of the need to show example.
"You look at Paul O'Connell and Brian O'Driscoll, just the way they carry themselves and the way they are on the pitch because you can do a lot of talking but it is no good to anyone," he reflected.
"Great captains, O'Connell, O'Driscoll, Roy Keane, do it on the pitch - that is what I will be hoping to bring to this year."
Inevitably Donaghy's vocal, allied to his physical, presence on the field draws additional attention from opponents and after the impact he made last season that's unlikely to relent.
But his rules of engagement are simple: his policy is to "fight fire with fire" and it has served him well in the trenches.
"When I was playing bad I got a lot of that treatment. I don't move that much inside at full-forward. Fellas would say I wouldn't move enough so I'm used to getting a fair bit of stick at the edge of the square. You have to be able to handle all types," he admitted.
"Some guys come in and don't open their mouth and I'll go through a game only opening my mouth to my own team-mates. You get games where's there's certain stuff thrown at you and you have to handle it as best you can.
"I don't enjoy it, really. But I am not afraid of it, either. I was 18, 19, marking guys who were 23 or 24 coming out of college in America who loved to talk on the basketball court. And I had to learn how to handle it and deal with it, fairly quickly.
"That was the culture in their game, so I wasn't one that was at it from an early age. But I learnt to deal with it. Fight fire with fire is how I found out is the best way to go about it.
"Because if you don't, you can let it frustrate you, start acting out and doing things that are silly. Whereas, if you get on with it, talk away and keep your own morale high and keep your concentration when the ball is coming down the field because that is what it is all about, concentrating on what you have to do next. I don't enjoy it but have to handle it as best you can."
Donaghy insists he never 'crossed the line' in any verbal engagement with an opponent.
"Everything stays on the pitch," he said. "We go around for more than 70 minutes, clipping each other on the field and we shake hands afterwards. That's the way sport is. Once it doesn't get personal - I would never take it to a personal level - then you just handle things as best you can.
"It's mostly just hopping off each other, rather than hopping shoulders off a fella, you have him in your ear. It's normally when you make a mistake, give a bad ball, you get a bit of stick for it, so you just have to shrug it off."
Donaghy feels this current Kerry team are going to have to adjust to expectation that hasn't been there for them for the last couple of years. "Maybe this current team aren't used to handling that expectancy, I'd say there's a few guys in it who have gone through that. We're going to have to handle it, we're going to have to up it."
One of his main roles as captain, he feels, will be to preach the need for inclusivity within the squad, using his own experience in turning his season around last summer.
With so many players back from injury, and in Paul Galvin's case retirement, detachment from the team will come quicker for some.
"We had a lot of fellas who were putting their hand up all year, that weren't getting a game," he recalled. "Certain fellas came in, Pa Kilkenny, Mark Griffin, Jonathan Lyne in the Mayo game in Limerick and got us to an All-Ireland final.
"The basic moral of the story is no matter how well the 15 guys are playing that started the game, if those guys didn't come in and deliver and play well having not played much football all year, we wouldn't have been in the All-Ireland final.
"So they get to take as much credit out of that All-Ireland victory as anybody else. That'd be a huge thing this year. As captain, I'll be preaching that but it might be me that's in that boat, it might be me that's not on the team.
"Making sure you're on the panel of 26 is going to be very hard to do with this group that we have."