Wednesday 14 November 2018

Comment: Kieran Donaghy will be remembered as one of the most influential players of his generation

Kerry icon Donaghy heads into the sunset but he's tipped to return one day - as manager

Kieran Donaghy burst onto the scene in 2006 against Longford before helping Kerry past Armagh and Francie Bellew in that year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy burst onto the scene in 2006 against Longford before helping Kerry past Armagh and Francie Bellew in that year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The 1953 FA Cup final is commonly referred to as the 'Matthews final', reflecting the influence of Stanley Matthews who inspired his Blackpool team to come from 3-1 down against Bolton Wanderers to win 4-3.

Yet to this day, the only Wembley FA Cup final hat-trick was scored in that very game by Blackpool's Stan Mortensen, a feat overshadowed by the heroics of his legendary team-mate to the point where, when Mortensen died, it was suggested that people would probably call it the Matthews funeral.

Kieran Donaghy lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2014. Photo: Sportsfile

Eoin Brosnan might easily identify with Mortensen. In 2006, when Kerry retreated to Killarney for a qualifier against Longford, chastened by their Munster final replay defeat to Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh 13 days earlier, Brosnan scored three goals.

But the game was all about Kieran Donaghy and his wrecking ball impact at full-forward. For his opponents over the next 13 years, a terrible beauty was born in Fitzgerald Stadium that day.

The cocktail of size, agility, great hands, great brain and attitude combined to lethal effect to shred the Longford defence. He followed it up with a similar destruction of Armagh, Cork and, finally, Mayo in an All-Ireland decider.

Jack O'Connor was in charge of Kerry that year and, in testimony yesterday, recalled the transformation in the team once the youngster from Rock Street was posted to full-forward that summer.

The Austin Stacks man went on to win four Sam Maguires. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
The Austin Stacks man went on to win four Sam Maguires. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

"In the four games before Longford, we scored no goal and in the next four games we scored 11 goals! We scored four goals against Longford and Kieran was involved in all four, such was his influence. Kieran provided us with a new focus."

Donaghy would score two of those other seven goals himself (against Armagh, when he infamously chided their goalkeeper Paul Hearty, and against Mayo) and be a link for Declan O'Sullivan's All-Ireland final goal.

The 'Jaws' soundtrack could have played away in the background of every clip of him in those days, such was the threat he posed.

He spread himself so wide, planting his feet firmly in the ground that he made it almost impossible to get out in front of to disrupt. And when he gathered, that initial surge had such a spring and was so powerful it took a few seasons for defenders to adjust. A number of counties sought to replicate the tactic. Thus, he should be considered one of the most influential footballers of the modern era.

Stephen Cluxton will always have the mantle of 'most influential' for how he changed kick-outs and made them such an integral part of any strategy.

The roles taken on by Brian Dooher for Tyrone in the last decade and Ciaran Kilkenny for Dublin in recent years have also provoked profound change. But Donaghy is very much in that category.

By his own admission, he'll admit there were better footballers on his watch in the Kingdom. From a basketball background, his pathway to Kerry was unusual in that it looked to have passed him by until he featured prominently in the 2004 TG4 'Underdogs' series.

Destination

He wasn't the quickest and when he got a shot away, its intended destination wasn't always guaranteed. There were times, too, when the tactic of hitting him direct looked a little overplayed. When Tyrone combated the 'twin tower' approach that saw Tommy Walsh join him in the full-forward line for the latter end of that year's championship, a defence mechanism had been uncovered to deal with him.

But what player almost single-handedly altered the course of two successful All-Ireland campaigns like he did, eight years apart (2006 and '14)?

Think of where Kerry were in the closing stages of the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo in Croke Park when Donaghy entered the fray, a last throw of the dice as Mayo roared towards a final renewal with Donegal, it seemed.

A year earlier Donaghy had been introduced at full-forward in the dying stages of that epic All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin but made little impact.

The following night, he recalled tuning into Radio Kerry's 'Terrace Talk' where his deployment there was being declared a redundant tactic, a relic of the past.

And when he sat out the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway in 2014, his thoughts turned to retirement.

Yet there he was on a rescue mission against Mayo, winning a free with one catch, setting up James O'Donoghue for a crucial goal with another before Kieran O'Leary's equaliser sent them all down to Limerick where he had one of his finest nights in a Kerry jersey.

The Kingdom went on to win the All-Ireland, with Donaghy influential in the final. He had changed the landscape again.

In the dying light of his career he was still an influence, something Eamonn Fitzmaurice acutely recognised in consistently finding a role for him.

Last year Mayo matched up Aidan O'Shea with him to curtail the threat, mindful of what he had done to them in 2014 - a gamble that paid off in their All-Ireland semi-final replay, more than the drawn game.

And then there was that touch for David Clifford's late goal in Clones to deny Monaghan at the death, which can now be seen as his parting shot in many ways. If it was anyone else you might just have considered it a touch fortunate, but with Donaghy the credit all had to be his for how he manoeuvred himself in a forest of bodies to make the opening from nothing.

He's been a character that lit up the game - colourful, confident and an open book. He antagonised and distracted opponents and generally kept them occupied by his very presence alone.

But colleagues loved him and thrived in his company, first Colm Cooper, then James O'Donoghue and, for those fleeting moments this summer, David Clifford too. The Austin Stacks clubman could always be counted upon to give the right ball at the right time, selfless almost to a fault.

Fitzmaurice paid him a fitting tribute yesterday by advocating a future that would see Donaghy as a Kerry manager.

"He is the ultimate team player, has a strong appreciation of the team dynamic, possesses a great tactical understanding of the game and, most importantly, is brimming with ideas. I can definitely see him successfully managing Kerry teams in the future," he noted.

Nothing could say more about his time in green and gold than that.

Irish Independent

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