Tough Munster battles will stand to Kingdom, insists O'Donoghue
Published 29/07/2015 | 02:30
When Eamonn Fitzmaurice was asked if he could single out a turning point in Kerry's summer last year, he mentioned the Munster final.
Kerry had come together to blow Cork out of the water. Then, he reckoned, he knew his team were capable of great things before the year was out.
This time around, things are different. They stayed in the Munster Championship by dint of a generous penalty call in the first Munster final.
In the replay they were more like themselves. And the ominous news for this weekend's opponents Kildare is that James O'Donoghue believes they are in better shape going into the last eight this time around than they were 12 months ago.
"I think (a tough Munster Championship) will be an advantage for us," said the reigning Footballer of the Year.
"We've played a couple of games and it's great for the group when you come through tough battles. Coming through a battle in horrendous conditions after nearly being knocked out the week before, it's good for the heads and everything and we're thinking maybe luck is on our side this year.
"We're in a good position to go on and play well in the quarter-final."
To this point, O'Donoghue believes everything has "gone to plan" for the Kingdom who could face Kildare, Monaghan and Dublin if they are to reclaim Sam Maguire.
"I think it's gone to plan so far. Even if we go back to the league, I think we got through all the games there. We played ok at certain stages when we needed to, we stayed up in Division 1.
"Then, coming into championship we had a very tough game against Tipp away, which can be tough when you've been away from championship pace.
"We did well, we got out by eight or nine points in that game and just kind of sailed on.
"Coming into the two Cork games, I think that in Killarney there was a great atmosphere and it really whet the appetite for the championship.
"To come over the second day, in horrific conditions really, was a good sign of the team.
"Basically so far it has all gone to plan."
On a personal level, the replay did him the world of good. A shoulder injury meant he's seen only limited game time and, by his own admission, he was blowing hard in the drawn game against Cork.
In the replay, he felt more like himself.
There's surely more to come from Colm Cooper too who has started just once this year.
In fact, in Kerry's three championship games to date in this campaign, the pair haven't started together, something Kerry supporters would love to see.
With a clash with the Lilies in Croke Park coming into view, O'Donoghue expects the Gooch to flourish.
"Fitness-wise, I struggled a bit in the first game against Cork because that was my first full 70 in a long time.
"But a week later I felt that having that under my belt was a huge thing because I managed to stick out the 70 minutes and get through it.
"Then I felt much fresher and more physically ready come the replay so I was happy to get two games under my belt."
"The Gooch is the Gooch. You just look forward to getting on the field with him. But every fella on the Kerry panel is so important at the moment. The competition is fierce.
"I am sure the Gooch's form will hit the sky in the summer. That is what he has been gearing himself for.
"Come Croke Park, where he loves, he is going to back firing and inspiring Kerry."
Kerry could yet need that pair firing at their best to unlock the defences that could come their way in the coming weeks, should they get past the Lilies of course.
O'Donoghue believes beating a defensive system is just a different kind of football. Having patience and being clinical are the key ingredients. And it's an area he believes he has improved upon.
"You learn it fairly lively when you're being blocked down three times in ten minutes.
"It's just a tiny thing but the weather the last day in the Munster final was absolutely horrendous.
"If you're not involved in the game and you're not touching the ball, you're getting cold, you're getting a bit cranky with everything else that's going on.
"Things might not be going your way and suddenly you're absolutely useless.
"It's a lot in the head as well. You just have to keep going, keep touching the ball, even if you're doing nothing, making a few tackles, that's what gets you involved in championship games.
"It's not just about being on the end of a slip pass, tapping the ball over the bar and then taking all the glory."