Thursday 23 January 2020

'I asked them to take me to surgery and knock me out'

Kieran Donaghy may be the wrong side of 30 but Kerry's 'elder lemon' still feels he has something to offer for the green and gold

Kieran Donaghy's frustration shows as he watches Kerry lose their league game to Cork in Tralee
Kieran Donaghy's frustration shows as he watches Kerry lose their league game to Cork in Tralee

Cliona Foley

INJURY and age may have nudged him towards the exit door, but Kieran Donaghy (31) isn't ready to reach for it just just yet, thanks. When Eamonn Fitzmaurice pulled him aside last summer to say he was being dropped for the Munster final he had two options – suck it up or spit out the dummy.

"I did a bit of sulking, but that was only on the couch in front of myself," he quips.

"No, Eamonn told me the decision was made. He said: 'We're going to need you coming on and we're going to need you being positive around the place' and that's the kind of person I am anyway.

"I'm not going to sit in the corner and be a negative influence, making young fellas who could be making their debut feel kinda awkward around me. Sure that's no good for anybody," he exclaims.

Since then the Kerry veteran's sunny disposition has been tested much more severely.

If you passed the track at Castleisland in the dim early mornings last winter that was him – jogging endless laps with physio Ger Keane.


A complicated groin/hip injury that first flared up on Kerry's training week in Portugal dogged him all last summer.

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Eventually, after playing in the county championship and league finals with Austin Stacks, he couldn't lift his leg without searing pain.

The rehab was beyond frustrating. With every step forward there were two back and he missed the entire national league campaign.

Every time he got in a solid block of training and moved the gears up to fifth, it would flare up again. "Mentally it was tough to deal with."

He thought his time in purgatory was finally over when, coincidentally, he finally got back kicking football during this year's training stint in Portugal.

Two weeks later, in his first game back for the club in late April, he badly dislocated his shoulder.

"In hospital for five hours with two lads trying to put it in.

"Eventually I said: 'lads, take me down to surgery and knock me out' – and they did."

Faced with another 10-week lay-off that exit sign blinked even brighter.

After a raft of peer retirements – and the Gooch lost to a cruciate – Donaghy was alone and back at the bottom of the cliff.

"Yah, it (retirement) crossed my mind alright. That night in the hospital I was thinking, 'what's the point? What am I doing here?'

"But that was only in the hard times. As soon as I got back in around the boys, I was encouraged and just focused all my energy on getting the injury right."

The man who was once the lippy prankster and perpetual big kid of the Kerry brat-pack is now, unthinkably, an elder lemon.

He still recalls his first night in the senior sanctuary 10 years ago, an U-21 brought in for a challenge match.

The U-21s were leading at half-time, by which time he'd scored three points off Darragh ó Sé and caught a few more balls over his head.

His eyes were fixed firmly on the ball as it was thrown in for the restart and then – BAM!

"Darragh ploughed into the back of me with an elbow and I didn't remember too much else.

"I was in a bit of a haze for the rest of it – that one of my heroes would clout me into the back of the head because I kicked a few points off him.

"But sure that's what made Darragh the player he was, he didn't like being beaten," he laughs.

Now it's him 'hoppin' the ball' off Kerry's young gunslingers.

"There's a few aul boys like myself and Marc (ó Sé) still doing a bit of messing, but the young fellas bring their own twist to the banter with the phones and the 'Whatsapp' and what have you," he quips about their ability to stealth bomb you from a distance with all their mobile gizmos.

Yet that young blood, his wife and family, and even the dogs, have all helped him back from the wilderness.

They have four dogs now, adding a second Kerry Blue as a companion for his late father's dog that he brought home from the funeral in Tyrone two years ago.

"There was a lot of mornings I'd be out on the beach, trying to get the leg into the water and stuff. You'd be fairly lonely and depressed if you were by yourself, but, sure, you'd throw a few of the dogs into the car and you'd be fine."

He recovered from the shoulder injury three weeks quicker than expected and came off the bench late against Clare and Cork in his only games this season – apart from one with the club.

He may have gone from Hollywood to off-Broadway, but the man who brought that bit of fairy dust to Irish basketball and gaelic football is happy to play even a bit-part.

Tralee no longer fields a national league team in basketball, but not a week goes by without someone telling the former Irish 'Player of the Year' how much they miss going up to watch the Tigers in the 'Complex.'

He still fervently follows the NBA – rooted for the Spurs this year – and started his own basketball camp for kids last Halloween.

It attracted 70 youngsters in its first year and, of course, had a typical Donaghy twist.

On the final day they were instructed to bring in their costumes and the morning was devoted to perfecting an internet dance craze called 'The Harlem Shake.'

As for Galway tomorrow, the game rekindles memories of one of his muckiest days in the Kerry trenches.

"I remember squeezing my gloves out in 2008, buckets of water coming out of them and Finian Hanley, who's a friend of mine, bouncing off me every time I went out to win a ball. Unbelievable.

"Daniel Bohane, a clubmate, came in and shored us up at full-back because Joe Bergin was causing us a bit of trouble," he recalls.

Their paths may not have crossed much since, but he points out that Fitzmaurice's experience as former Kerry U-21 boss means he's well aware of Galway's rising talent.

Closer to home on the club front, With Legion knocking out the Goochless Dr Crokes, the gate to county championship glory is also open this summer for Donaghy and his Austin Stacks team-mates.

James O'Donoghue and Co now face Dingle in the glamour tie of the quarter-finals, while Donaghy mock-groans at being lined up against West Kerry. "Jeez, I'll be hopping off Marc ó Sé whenever that's played. And he'll be wearing off me and complaining to the ref that I'm doing all the pulling and dragging!"

But first comes the county.

"As long as I feel I can help the team on the field of play, I'll hang around because when I was a young fella no one ever talked about me being a Kerry footballer."

He still recalls an old man in a pub once, telling him that being a Kerry minor was irrelevant – that only playing Kerry U-21 gave you any shot at glory.

"When he said that I thought, 'yeah, I'm a Kerry U-21, I might have a chance here?'

"That was probably the first time it ever came into my head that I could play football and not concentrate solely on basketball.

"It hasn't worked out too badly."

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