Saturday 20 January 2018

Sinead Kissane: Donaghy continues to create panic and surprise with his fourth coming in green and gold

Attention around 'Star' could be the perfect ploy to lessen the focus on his fellow forwards in tomorrow's contest

In form: Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Sportsfile
In form: Kieran Donaghy. Photo: Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

The final whistle in the drawn 2014 All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Kerry and Mayo sounded the start of the mind-games for Kieran Donaghy ahead of the replay.

Donaghy was p****d off with how he saw Aidan O'Shea celebrate in David Moran's face when Mayo stretched themselves into a five-point lead with six minutes remaining. We know Donaghy was annoyed because he said it in his autobiography which was published last year in the belief he would retire, never to play for Kerry, or against Mayo, again.

Donaghy hugged his team-mates and shook hands with Mayo players at the end of the game. And then he came across O'Shea.

"I haven't forgotten his goading of David Moran," Donaghy wrote in his book 'What Do You Think Of That?' "Aidan is more talented and higher-profile than his brother who just made the last catch of the game. But when I clasped his (Aidan's) hand, I look him dead in the eye. 'Well done, Seamus.' He looks back, confused, as if to say, 'I'm Aidan!' But I've already moved on. I've to get ready for Limerick."

There are traits in Donaghy that are also in Mayo. When it looks like the end credits are about to finally roll, Donaghy and Mayo have a knack of rebounding off the canvas.

They reinvent themselves more often than Madonna. They don't have a fear of Dublin, instead they smell the Dubs' swagger and it feeds their own. Throughout his life Donaghy says he's been a Prove You Wrong person. Sound familiar, Mayo?

Perhaps more than any other county, games against Mayo have bookmarked the struggles, and more often, the successes of Donaghy. Before Kerry's 2004 All-Ireland final with Mayo, Donaghy remembers going red with embarrassment when he went into a clothes shop in Tralee where the Kerry players got fitted for their suits only to be told he wasn't on the list of players. What a way to discover you hadn't made the panel.

Donaghy's first game for Kerry at Croke Park was against Mayo in the 2005 All-Ireland quarter-final. He became Mayo's great nightmare a year later in the final. He woke Kerry up when he came on as a sub in the semi-final with Mayo in 2014. He initially came on in midfield before being rushed into a rescue-mission at full-forward as Kerry went back to the future.

Even though he wasn't named on the official team to start the replay, Eamonn Fitzmaurice told him on the Tuesday of that week that he would be starting in Limerick.

It was Donaghy's first time starting a big championship game since the 2012 All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Donegal.

The last act of normal-time in that replay was Donaghy fending off Tom Parsons to catch the ball under the posts from Rob Hennelly's free which, if converted, would have won the replay for Mayo. The last act of extra-time was Donaghy winning a hop-ball. Tomorrow will be the first time Donaghy, Kerry and Mayo hop off each other in the championship since that evening at the Gaelic Grounds. Then again, some things are worth waiting for.

This championship is like Donaghy's fourth coming. His second was when he was refashioned from a midfielder to a full-forward in 2006. He feared his Kerry career had flat-lined after he was kept on the bench for the quarter-final win over Galway in 2014.

He didn't start the 2015 All-Ireland final against Dublin when he was captain and decided to give it one last go for 2016. He was meant to retire last year. Hence the book. Yet here he is, continuing to reveal himself like the best kind of summer read.

Donaghy's latest bounce is down to many reasons including Fitzmaurice allowing him the space to take the winter and league off football so he could play basketball with the new team, the Tralee Warriors, which he helped set up.

Donaghy, 34, only returned training with Kerry the week of the National League final with Dublin in April. But he impressed so much in just one training session that he got the nod as the last man on the panel for the final although he never made it off the bench for the win over the Dubs.

Kerry selector Maurice Fitzgerald also toughened Donaghy up one evening at training. Bryan Sheehan was kicking balls into Donaghy when Fitzgerald came over and started to mark him. "Maurice came in and put manners on me. I didn't win a ball for a while, he was hanging out of me, pulling me, bumping me as I took off for a ball," Donaghy said recently.

His Austin Stacks manager and former Kerry coach Pat Flanagan saw signs of Donaghy's early-season form in May when he played club games against St Kieran's and Legion with his footwork and how he caught balls at difficult angles, in particular, catching the eye.

"He has a knack of making ok ball look like very good ball. He's quicker, he's sharper at the moment," Flanagan pointed out this week. "He would have had a couple of injuries over the years which might have slowed him down a bit. I think he's enjoying being back in on the edge of the square and being injury-free. I think they're doing a very tailored, specific programme for him and it's paid off. I think all of that put together has rejuvenated his energy".

What has also evolved about Donaghy's role in Kerry over the past few years is how he's become an enforcer in terms of their attitude. When strong personalities like the ó Sé's and Paul Galvin left, Donaghy filled the void. He's so vocal on the pitch, he's waving and organising their defence for the quick kick-outs, he sets the temperature of the team which almost allows other players to just play. For the past three or four years he's been telling his club and county team-mates the same lines.

"Don't be a reactor. Be the aggressor. If you think your man is the type who'll start something off, start it before he starts it," Donaghy said in his autobiography. "The thing about when you're aggressive, you're actually the one more in control: of yourself, of the situation. Sometimes fellas in the Stacks will be looking at me and shout, 'Calm down, Star!' They think I'm going haywire. But I'm in complete control. I'm on the verge of going out of control but I'm not going to do anything stupid that's going to jeopardise the team."

Donaghy has been many things for Kerry. Before the 2006 All-Ireland final with Mayo, Jack O'Connor said: "Every group of fans needs a bit of a hero and I suppose Donaghy has taken on that mantle." He's been plenty more. Donaghy has been the experiment, the revelation, the captain, the sub, the super-sub, the scapegoat, the showman, a panic-creator, a mentor, a tormentor, a thinker, a reactor, the aggressor.

Eleven years on from 2006 and Donaghy is as relevant as ever when it comes to Mayo games. The way he played against Galway could be repositioned as the perfect ploy to take the heat off the other forwards going into tomorrow's game. When it's clicking, Donaghy makes it look easy but little has come easy for Donaghy. He was never the child prodigy, marked out for great things from an early age. He never made the school team as a kid. He was the last player called into the Kerry minor panel in his last year in that age-group. It took him three seasons to make the team when he eventually got called into the Kerry senior panel.

No wonder he hasn't left yet. There's a shadow of silver around the temples but Donaghy is looking fitter than ever. This might be his fourth coming but there's a price on his head and Mayo will be coming for him tomorrow.

Thing is, he wouldn't want it any other way. What do you think of that?

Irish Independent

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