Thursday 23 November 2017

Billy Keane: Why giant of the Kingdom continues to be a shining Star - on and off the pitch

Kieran Donaghy points to his grandmother in the stands after scoring a goal in the 2006 All-Ireland final Photo: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Kieran Donaghy points to his grandmother in the stands after scoring a goal in the 2006 All-Ireland final Photo: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

First of all, the nickname 'Star' was no ego trip. The name came from The Greyhound Bar in Tralee. The pub was owned by his mother's cousin, 'Uncle' Aidan O'Connor, and Kieran Donaghy was the barman. A talkative barman.

Patsy 'The Mop' was low on funds. I've often met Patsys in our pub. One time this man who was down on his luck ordered a half-pint. He explained that "men with small boats must sail close to the shore". Just like Patsy 'The Mop', whose hairstyle resembled a mop. Patsy, who didn't hate drink, is delighted.

Donaghy plays for Ireland at basketball and Uncle Aidan, who Kieran dearly loves, buys Patsy 'The Mop' a pint. Patsy shouts out "STARRRRRRR" and a nickname was born.

It's eight in the morning and even then Star fills up the bar. There's just the two of us. Even if he wasn't such a giant, he'd still fill the place. He has what directors call presence.

Over the next two hours or so he opens up. Kieran Donaghy has no secrets. His autobiography What Do Think Of That? comes from the heart and head in equal measure. It's funny too.

There are terrible sad parts in the chapter 'Dad'. His father was an alcoholic, and Kieran has already dealt with this on The Late, Late Show. We'd be good old mates and I don't want to push him. There will be lots of small boys who are living with the problems of alcohol who will feel they are not alone after listening to his brave account.

One of the best bits in the book is when Star, who is a basketball fanatic, plays an impromptu game in a rough old part of Chicago called Holy City and the rules are "no blood no foul". This huge African-American shouts "where did you get this white bitch?" Star lays into him and the two become pals.

He seems to thrive on confrontation. There are stirring accounts of physical and verbal battles with full-back lines. Yet he seems to have made friends with nearly all concerned. Of Joe Brolly, who gave him a very bad review but motivated him so much, he says: "He's like he is talking to the fella next to him in the pub."

But when he's out on that field all the niceness leaves him. Donaghy "will do whatever it takes to win". He feels Kerry should be become the aggressors and that maybe sometimes we wait until the other team take liberties before we get stuck in.

As for the refs, he understands their human side and says "it's only natural not to give frees and penalties to the big guys". He tells of the controversial challenge from Philly McMahon against Dublin in the 2014 final. Then he adds that he hugely admires McMahon, describing him as "a true hero in his community who does whatever it takes to win".

Another bit I love is when his nan is brought up to the wheelchair section of Croke Park by his uncle Kieran. It's the 2006 All-Ireland final against Mayo and Kieran scores a goal. He looks up to his nan and points to her in celebration.

His mother Deirdre moved the family in with nan when the marriage went west. Deidre was an all-in mother and the family have done well. Kieran's uncles, Brian and Kieran, gave him great back-up. They are good fellas, with heart.

When he was 19, Donaghy crashed in the apartments of some black basketball players who were playing in Tralee. He lived the life of a student prince, except he hardly ever went to college. His football career was going nowhere.

An American basketball coach, Rus Bradburd, taught Kieran how to get his head and body right. Sean Healy got him a job in the bank. He hasn't a bad word to say about his Kerry managers. Of Stephen Stack, the hugely successful Austin Stacks manager who left the club this week, Donaghy says: "He brought us on to new levels and I finally won a county championship medal thanks to him."

So many people helping a young boy to find the man he has become. I often think if he wasn't a Kerryman, Kieran would like to be a black guy playing basketball in the inner cities all day long, with no blood no foul.

There was a game in Florida. His pal Daniel Bohane and few more took on the locals in a tough part of the city. Bohane raps: "You boys don't have shit on me, I'm a white boy from Tralee." Donaghy sends all and sundry flying with knees and elbows. They win. The boys get invited to a local night-club and they're all calling him Star.

He just couldn't pass maths exams, though he did get the Leaving pass maths on his third go. His banking career stalled due to dyslexia. But he's a smart person, one of the brightest I've ever interviewed. Star is now the star of dyslexic kids. Parents are in touch and he talks to the kids over the phone and tells them his story. He has visited schools. Hope is his message.


His wife and soul-mate Hilary persuaded him to go for an assessment and Kieran was diagnosed as dyslexic at 25. In a way it was a huge relief. He knew it wasn't as if this was his fault or anything.

Kieran works for a hugely successful astro-turf and artificial grass company, PST sports. PST landed a big contract to supply Chelsea with a new pitch. He has overcome adversity yet again.

Two hours go by in two minutes. "Don't forget to tell them I'm signing the book in Easons, O'Connell Street on Saturday at 4.30 - tell Philly he's welcome." On Tuesday he's in the Irish Consulate in Manhattan.

But for all that, there's no change in the 15 or so years I've known him. He's still the Star.

Irish Independent

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