Thursday 21 November 2019

O'Donoghue leads way in Kerry survival surge

Kerry's James O'Donoghue celebrates scoring his side's first goal against Tyrone earlier this month
Kerry's James O'Donoghue celebrates scoring his side's first goal against Tyrone earlier this month

Cliona Foley

His flying feet have been pivotal to throwing Kerry a lifeline to avoid the drop from Division 1 football but their in-form forward James O'Donoghue admits the amount of criticism they've shipped in the last 18 months has often called for dramatic action.

"You don't go out, just stay at home!" the Kingdom's flying corner-forward said when asked how he has deflected the criticism and continued to hold his form and confidence while so many naysayers have been writing off a team clearly in transition.

"People do really get kind of frustrated and it's a horrible place to be in after losing three games in a row," O'Donoghue admitted of Kerry's disappointing start in Division 1 this year, which he has helped turn around in the last fortnight.

"Last year was worse," he stressed. "We were after losing four and losing badly, by five or six points, and that is a nightmare situation really but we had fellas to come back in."

RETIRED

The same is no longer the case with so many of Kerry's veterans either injured or retired and O'Donoghue accepts that it's now firmly up to their next generation of young footballers "to pull us out of the fire".

"Hopefully we will do the job ourselves this time and if we win our final two (NFL) games we are back in the shake-up."

Given that O'Donoghue was one of only two Kerry All Stars last year and the other one – Colm Cooper – is now recuperating from a cruciate injury, the pressure has doubled on the young Legion star to deliver the goods up front and he has not disappointed.

When Kerry trounced Tyrone for their first win this season, he scored 3-3 (0-2f) and last week he terrorised Kildare with 1-5 (0-1f). Saddling him with the 'new Gooch' tag is premature but there are certainly similarities in his laid-back personality and languid playing style.

Like Cooper, O'Donoghue – whose father Diarmuid is a former Kerry captain and NFL top-scorer – is not a muscle-bound gym bunny of the type that now dominates Gaelic games.

He has also demonstrated the same sort of natural balance and kicking ability, combined with a scintillating burst of speed, which few defenders can cope with.

His hat-trick against Tyrone was the first time a Kerryman scored three goals in a league game in Killarney.

He also scored 2-3 against Dublin in that amazing All-Ireland semi-final last summer and, after last Sunday's display, Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice said: "There is still a lot more in him."

With Westmeath to come and then Cork at home, O'Donoghue has underlined the importance of Kerry belatedly putting back-to-back victories together in the past fortnight.

"I think everyone down in Kerry was worried about that really because people think we are obsessed with Tyrone, so to get that win and then beat Kildare away was good.

"Unfortunately, we lost the three (before) but the Tyrone game wasn't a flash in the pan thank God and hopefully we can go on and beat Westmeath in two weeks and be looking right up."

And O'Donoghue says that winning that road trip to Mullingar has become even more crucial considering who is coming to visit in Tralee in the last round.

"If Cork have a chance to come down and relegate us, they will probably be up for it," he said, "so we need to get the job done in two weeks' time and go on from there."

Irish Independent

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