Saturday 19 August 2017

'I take pride in how I respond to pressure' - Kieran Donaghy hoping for final berth

Not for the first time the Kerry captain finds his place under threat – but it has brought the best out of him in the past

Kieran Donaghy is looking forward to another battle with Rory O’Carroll DIARMUID GREENE / SPORTSFILE
Kieran Donaghy is looking forward to another battle with Rory O’Carroll DIARMUID GREENE / SPORTSFILE
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The greatest point in Kieran Donaghy's career has often been conveniently lost in the blur of what happened next.

Remember it? A kick from out near the Cusack Stand side into the Davin End that rose high before dropping on cue to level the 2011 All-Ireland final again in the 69th minute.

On another day he might have been remembered as the man who dug Kerry out of a deep hole before they went on to win a replay. But the moment was quickly consumed by the drama of Stephen Cluxton's subsequent intervention.

"It was quickly forgotten about when your man nailed the winner from his free," he recalls. "I probably haven't scored a better point but it was just what I felt was needed at the time.

"I don't shoot that much, I don't shoot unless I basically think I have a 95 per cent chance.

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"I prefer to give it to the sharp fellas around me. That day, I just felt it was on and I've a good kick from that area. My club-mate Daniel Bohan gave me a pass that was on the money, on the chest."

Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy celebrates after kicking a point. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Tyrone. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy celebrates after kicking a point. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final, Kerry v Tyrone. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

"I was cramping as I kicked it because I was after chasing back for Bernard Brogan's point that put them ahead. As I was kicking it, I could feel a cramp in my calf."

Alas, to no avail. Surprisingly, Donaghy doesn't rate the defeat as the worst he has suffered. He had come into the game under a cloud, struggling for form and real impact.

But that's where he's often at his best, when his back is to the wall. This week he'll be feeling it again.

After being whipped off at half-time in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Tyrone there's a question mark over whether he starts or not on Sunday. But that's fine with him. He knows what he has to do.

"It's a different build-up because for me now there is added pressure to try and cement my place, try to hold on to that jersey," he acknowledges.

"I've always prided myself in how I have done in pressure situations, hope that leads to me having a very good build-up and working hard on my own performance to help the team whatever happens. It's similar enough to 2011. I was under pressure that time too. It sharpens the focus, sharpens the mind.

"It really focuses you into every training session and that's what I did too after the Galway game last year. I just treated every little 20 or 30 minutes of football that we had in training like a final, try and find everything to get a good performance out of myself."

That Kerry can afford to keep Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Barry John Keane, Darran O’Sullivan, Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin in reserve underlines the happy position in which Eamonn Fitzmaurice & Co found themselves at selection time
That Kerry can afford to keep Paul Geaney, Bryan Sheehan, Barry John Keane, Darran O’Sullivan, Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin in reserve underlines the happy position in which Eamonn Fitzmaurice & Co found themselves at selection time

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He was hoping to 'buy some time' with the point he kicked just before the break against Tyrone but within minutes he had been decommissioned and the disappointment was instant. But it didn't last long because it couldn't. As captain he has to see things with a wide-angle lens, not just from his own tunnel vision.

"I was taken off, I was gutted for a minute and a half and then I realigned my thoughts into talking to the boys and making sure the spirits were good in the second half.

"I knew they needed to be because I knew Tyrone were going to bring a huge amount to it. Paul (Geaney) came on for me, he was outstanding in the second half and the rest of the guys who came on were huge in that game because Tyrone, with 10 minutes to go, were asking all the questions."

If Donaghy makes the team he'll be renewing an old rivalry with Rory O'Carroll who he sparred with in that 2011 game and in league matches since.

"He'd be like the fellas in the Aussie Rules, the taggers," said Donaghy. "He's unbelievable at being close to you all the time.

"He doesn't really have any interest in playing football or the game, he just wants to get as close and pull and drag off you as much as possible and to try and get away with it at the same time.

"But he's tight, he's aggressive, he's good in the air. He's one of the best around in the No 3 position. They had that real presence and that real security of him there in the replay."

He watched the battle between Aidan O'Shea and half the Dublin defence unfold over both semi-finals but doesn't believe comparisons are sustainable because they have different styles.

"You would pick up some things but myself and Aidan would be very different players even though we're your big 'muckers' inside full-forward.

"I would have been watching what they were doing and what Dublin were doing against them. My style would be slightly different to his so you can't read into it too much at the same time."

Whatever comes his way he'll be ready for it and expecting it. "I played basketball against Americans. I was 6'5", I might have been guarding a 6'8" fella and I'd get away with a bit of pulling and dragging and bumping him in the stomach when they where shooting and boxing them extra hard.

"The refs would have said, 'He's bigger, he should be able to look after himself'. And I think that goes right down to all sports and all codes.

"If you're at an U-14 game and they have a big fella in the middle of the field and he's getting horsed around the place by a smaller fella, the ref is not going to blow the whistle.

"I've been around long enough now not to expect it, to fight as best as I can, as fair as I can for the ball and certainly you couldn't be expecting or looking for breaks. You've got to go out and earn it and earn the ball as best you can."

Donaghy has felt the intense heat of competition for places this year with the return of Tommy Walsh, Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin and the full recovery from injury of Darran O'Sullivan.

"It's probably the main reason why we're back in this position," he adds. "Often when you win an All-Ireland, it's nearly the same bunch that go at it again for the following year, sometimes a bit of staleness or lack of hunger can cost you.

"The level of competition this year, the bite to training and the pursuit of the jersey and a place on the match-day squad, is huge and I think it's what has motivated every fella all year to train as hard as we do and get to the gym and do all your bits and bobs."

Irish Independent

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