James O'Donoghue: Hopefully I'll be laid out in training and my shoulder will be fine
Published 26/05/2015 | 02:30
Some day soon James O'Donoghue will sit his final exam in the process of rehabilitation and he's expecting someone like Mark Griffin, Kerry's robust reserve full-back, to have set the paper.
The current Footballer of the Year is well down the comeback trail since an operation last November to repair a dislocated shoulder that threatened to derail him at the height of his powers last summer.
With a couple of challenge and club championship outings with Legion, on top of internal games with Kerry, O'Donoghue has been finding his way back to full fitness.
But until his shoulder is sufficiently road-tested with an impact, he admits he won't really know where he stands.
The issue is as much mental now as anything else.
"Hopefully Mark absolutely lays me out and I'll be fine after it," he laughed. "It's all about the sharpness. It's a head injury, there's always a dodgy ball or someone in your eye line.
"You have to get three or four games under your belt and it's just gone then. It's just a bit of time."
He came on for Legion in a club championship game against Kerins O'Rahillys and, by his own admission, put in his "worst 10 minutes ever".
"I was absolutely all over the place. I couldn't even run. I don't know what was wrong with me. My brain wasn't working," he recalled. "Thank God I blew that out of the system after ten minutes. I felt good after that. I feel ready now."
He has also allayed injury fears in his own county, admitting he had hamstring and calf injuries that routinely surface during rehabilitation but would not miss the Tipperary or Waterford Munster semi-final on June 14 because of them.
O'Donoghue said he was reluctant to undergo the operation in the first place because of the uncertainty he felt it might bring and only went ahead after discussions with family and Kerry team management.
"I didn't want to go through a season of not knowing what I was at. I probably sacrificed a bit of preparation for the championship just to be physically right," he said.
"There's upsides and downsides but once I get my head sorted now for a few games, I'll probably be in a better position than last year."
That said, he feels back at "square one" all over again, unsure of where he stands within the team.
"I felt great for two or three months after winning the All-Ireland but now I'm back to square one because I don't know where I stand in the team. Once I get back into the team, I can concentrate on winning more All-Irelands but my small step first is getting back playing right and back into the team because it's very easy to get lost if you're not playing well."
O'Donoghue hopes his injury and time away will allow him to time his 'run' with a return to form.
"Last year was fantastic but I'm starting from down here again," he said. "I just have my one goal - get on the team. It's like being a 'newbie' into the panel again.
"But I think it's going to be very good for me, because I literally have to completely focus on every step at a time.
"A lot of fellas who have had good years have come back the following year and had poor ones because they haven't been able to find themselves again at the same level."
He feels the return of Colm Cooper, Tommy Walsh and Paul Galvin to the squad over the last few months will help shield him a little from the inevitable spotlight that will fall on him and his return after the year he had.
"For there to be no focus on you at all is probably best because you're hungry to get back into the limelight. Hopefully I go under the radar with the boys. I'm sure they're going to start the championship full-blooded and raring to go.
"I might be a little bit behind that possibly with the lack of games, so hopefully I can time it right."
Winning Footballer of the Year has made him more "confident" in football terms.
"It didn't change me. I probably became more confident in myself, maybe in football terms.
"I got the All-Ireland, the Footballer of the Year which was great but it's literally onto the next one with Kerry. There's no mention of 2014 in the camp or in Kerry at all. There's nobody talking about it."
O'Donoghue admits to being a little envious of the early-season activity in Ulster and feels his game would improve from having to "think" more through such games.
"You play different games and different styles," he said. "You get an education playing different teams because you have to be more clever.
"The top players in Ulster are excellent because they can think their way through games and that's the best thing about playing those teams - you get an education."
O'Donoghue reiterated that he was happier with the deeper role he had against Donegal in last year's All-Ireland final than the more orthodox inside forward commission he had all year.
"You literally might not touch the ball (inside) but that's the risk you take. Yet you could score two goals. So, which way do you go?" he mused.
"It's a tough one because you could be standing on the edge of the square and there could be six bodies around you and you might get one pass here (points).
"But what do you do when you catch it on the '21' and there's six around you? Throw a leg at it? An old bicycle kick or something? You're not going to have time to turn.
"We decided in training the way we were going to go at it and, to be honest, it did pan out the way we thought. I know it wasn't pretty or anything, but no one was thinking about that after the final whistle."