Middleman Donaghy gone full circle for Kingdom
Kieran Donaghy began inter-county life as a midfielder and he's staking a strong claim to finish it there too.
Donaghy has put together a sequence of four games at midfield that has coincided with Kerry's strongest run of league form since Eamonn Fitzmaurice took over as manager.
Wins over Down, Donegal, Mayo and Monaghan have virtually assured Kerry of a place in a league semi-final for the first time since 2012.
Donaghy has spent the best part of the last decade as a focal point of the Kerry attack at full-forward but over the last month he has thrived in partnership with Bryan Sheehan for three games and David Moran on Sunday last.
He featured briefly as a midfielder in 2005 and 2006 before transforming Kerry with his switch to full-forward against Longford in a qualifier when he wreaked havoc and had a hand in all four Kerry goals that day. He ended the season as Footballer Of The Year.
His performance against Monaghan in Clones on Sunday was hugely influential, not just for the two superb points that he scored from distance or his success under the kick-out, but his forceful tackling and link play also stood out.
The relative freedom has been revitalising, he admitted. "There's a small bit more licence out there to roam around without two or three fellas kind of shackling you. It's enjoyable," he admitted.
"We're enjoying it as a team, working hard together, just getting kind of mileage into the legs out there which is good."
Donaghy felt that he needed that change, to run up those miles and take his fitness to a higher level.
"I had a good two years with the club out there. It just keeps the options open for us. I felt this league that I just wanted to get mileage into the legs.
"I took a bit of a break off throughout the winter, played the basketball. So I wanted to make sure that I got that stuff into the legs once the league came around."
Fitzmaurice noted after the game that last year's captain was in the shape of his life and a resurgent Donaghy didn't disagree.
"I worked hard in the off-season," he reflected. "The basketball is standing to me. I felt we worked hard at that.
"I wasn't in with the boys on the field but I was training two or three nights a week with the basketball and doing my own bits and pieces as well.
"Look, I'm fit but when you're winning and games are going well, you're always fit. And when you're losing and games are not going well, you're unfit so I'll just take it as it comes," he conceded.
Kerry's options for midfield are the most varied of any county. Anthony Maher has yet to come back as he continues to rehabilitate from hip surgery, Sheehan is out injured while Tommy Walsh, who has been out injured since the Down match, returned to club action on Saturday night.
"We figured Tommy would be better off getting a full county league game rather than coming up, not starting and maybe not getting action that would benefit him," explained Fitzmaurice after Sunday's win.
"He played well in the county league for Strand Road (Kerins O Rahilly's) and that was good for him to get a full game under his belt."
Donaghy is buoyed by the fact that Kerry will not be looking over their shoulder going into the last round of the league as they were in 2013 and 2015. For the first time under Fitzmaurice they have four league wins.
"We've set our eyes a bit higher than avoiding relegation. We wanted to try and make it into Croke Park, make it into a league semi-final and see how we fare out of there. That was the aim of the team at the start of the year. I suppose it looked a bit shaky but thankfully we've hauled it back."
Donaghy admitted that the win over Donegal, in their controversial Tralee meeting, was a catalyst.
"We won above in Down (the previous week) but we knew coming out of there that they weren't going well and they weren't up to where they wanted to be. Coming away, you still don't know really where you are.
"Donegal had six points after three wins in a row and they were coming down to Tralee, they were very impressive against Mayo and we knew that was a big game for us. Thankfully we got out on the right side of it and we haven't looked back since."
Donaghy says Kerry will be on guard against Cork after losing their last two league games against them by 10 and 11 points.
"They gave us a good hosing in the league last year so we'll have to have our guard up for them," he said.