Tuesday 24 April 2018

Colm Keys: Donaghy conundrum still a high Mayo priority

Three years on, the threat of evergreen Kerry target man is as relevant as ever

Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy ruled the skies against Mayo three years ago. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile
Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy ruled the skies against Mayo three years ago. Photo: Pat Murphy / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

This time three years ago Kieran Donaghy had made up his mind that when the anchor dropped on Kerry's season he would be taking permanent leave of absence.

Kerry had beaten Galway in an All-Ireland quarter-final on the August Bank Holiday weekend, a match that Donaghy did not even feature in as one of the six substitutes introduced.

It got him thinking - if he wasn't in the first 21 for a game like that, what future did he have with the team?

That night, when he returned home to Tralee, there was no urge to go out with his friends. He lay on the couch, by his own admission brooding over where his career might be heading.

But the following Tuesday evening Éamonn Fitzmaurice had offered him an olive branch, telling him they may have made a mistake by failing to include him.

'Sit tight,' he was told. And he did until the 59th minute of the semi-final when he was introduced at a time when 14-man Mayo had forged three points ahead after one of their best spells of football.

Donaghy was initially introduced at midfield but quickly switched into full-forward, where any retrospective viewing of those final minutes should carry the 'Jaws' theme song to illustrate imminent danger.

He took to the Mayo defence like a wrecking ball, catching first to win a free for Bryan Sheehan to convert before latching on to another hit-and-hope delivery to lay off to James O'Donoghue. The second coming of Donaghy was under way.

He brought the same menace to Limerick for the replay six days later, only this time for a more sustained period.

Ger Cafferkey was full-back and in the eye of the storm on both days.

Donaghy has only crossed paths with Mayo once since, in the 2016 league when he was positioned at midfield during the campaign as he sought to build up his fitness levels.

But now he is looming large again for Mayo, posing the main questions that are sure to be at the heart of planning discussions since the pairing became apparent last week.

Donaghy's form against Galway was a throwback to those days three years ago. Pitched against rookie David Walsh, he went to town on the Galway defence. His distribution in the Munster final reflected a player coming back to his best.

Even at 34, 11 years on from his impact and contribution to Kerry's 2006 All-Ireland success from full-forward, he is still as relevant as ever.

How do Mayo deal with him this time? Who do they deploy to pick him up? What cover to that marker can they hope to provide?

The suggestions box was open for business last weekend when, in his 'Sunday World' column, David Brady put forward the idea that Aidan O'Shea would provide suitable guard for Donaghy.

When Kildare's Kevin Feely was causing trouble from full-forward for Mayo in last year's qualifier in Castlebar, it was O'Shea who dropped back, after Kevin Keane was forced off, but to even consider deploying O'Shea in such a role in this context would be a massive concession to Kerry. Stephen Rochford's appetite for left-field decisions may have diluted since last year.

That same premise is likely to rule Lee Keegan out of the equation. Sure to come back into the side after missing the Roscommon replay with a bout of cellulitis, the only question is where.

Keegan is one of the mentally strongest footballers around who, in his head-to-heads with Diarmuid Connolly and Sean Cavanagh in recent years, has shown admirable resolve.

Whatever the challenge thrown down to him he relishes it and even conceding inches to Donaghy would not unduly inconvenience him. But again, would it be too much of a submission to Kerry?

Attacking

Donal Vaughan is a potential candidate and has come back into the side and into form, chiefly as an attacking half-back. But he too has the resolve to carry out such a task and is many people's idea of the most appropriate shadow in current circumstances.

An experienced and specialist full-back, Cafferkey has spent most of 2016 and the earlier part of 2017 out of action because of a serious hamstring injury.

He made it back for the championship but lost his place the last day. That puts him at a disadvantage, notwithstanding his experiences three years ago.

Tyrone successfully dealt with the Donaghy threat in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final with their placement of Colm Cavanagh in a sweeping role in front of him, a tactic they had instigated before that game and have stuck with since.

For the relatively similar threat posed by Donegal's Michael Murphy in the 2015 All-Ireland quarter-final, after he too had brought destruction to Galway in a qualifier, Mayo used Barry Moran as a screen in front of Murphy for their All-Ireland quarter-final and it worked to good effect.

The present Mayo management used Moran in a similar role against Tipperary's twin threat of Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney and enjoyed similar success.

Moran has, however, been injured for long spells of this season and such a concentrated spell of action may be beyond him.

But the extra cover represents Mayo's best prospect of closing down Donaghy while also giving assistance to the clampdown on the O'Donoghue/Paul Geaney axis.

Seamus O'Shea could potentially fulfil the role this time with Keegan resuming at midfield where he was so destructive against Roscommon in the drawn game.

Whatever combination they come up with, the danger is as real and present as ever.

 

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