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'Star' Donaghy reborn as Stacks target Munster glory

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Kieran Donaghy in action for Austin Stacks

Kieran Donaghy in action for Austin Stacks

SPORTSFILE

Kieran Donaghy in action for Austin Stacks

In the space of a few short weeks, it all changed.

Kieran Donaghy went from bench-warmer to match-winner. From a player struggling to find his groove with Kerry to a man yearning for 2015 and his shot at captaining the Kingdom.

Ask him how he felt this time a year ago and it's like he doesn't recognise himself. For someone so obviously in love with the game, a groin injury took the good out of things right for much of 2014, up to when he sat on the bench for Kerry's All-Ireland quarter-final win over Galway.

For all of Eamonn Fitzmaurice's brilliance on the line this year, it was perhaps his most obvious call that saved Kerry's season when he sent for the big man to put him on the edge of the square. Donaghy was the fox in the hen house and he helped manufacture the crucial goal to force a replay.

Kerry never looked back on their way to another All-Ireland. And having started August on the bench, Donaghy's influence on the championship was such that the All Star selectors couldn't look past him.

'Star' was reborn in those weeks and so was his club. After a replay, Austin Stacks ended a 20-year wait for a county title.

"And thrown in the middle I had my basketball camp right in between the two replays. It was mental, a mad few weeks. You are up the walls but you just roll with it.

"It's worse when you are busy and things aren't going well for you. So you try and take it in your stride and push on and keep going when the going is good. Because the going was bad for long enough."

For Austin Stacks, 20 years was an uncomfortably long wait. It's been a difficult period since their glory years in the 1970s which yielded the club's only All-Ireland title.

Since then, they've got by on less than a title a decade. And with time ticking on, Donaghy felt the pressure building. "I wasn't sure the medal would come. You just don't know. I was fearful maybe that I'd be one of those players that would be a Kerry player but never achieved an ultimate goal with the club and win a county championship.

"Especially with how good Crokes have been and they had beaten us in two finals and two semis and you think it's not meant to be.

Effort

"But that changed this year and it goes down to the effort of the underage coaches down the years to get fellas like myself ready for championship battle."

And as was the case this year with Kerry, Donaghy was rewarded for his patience. As a youngster with Stacks, he'd been on the outside looking in as others led his underage teams to success. A sub for much of his younger days, Donaghy is currently the club's only county player. He lived up to that billing in the replay.

"We're just delighted boy. It's a great thing to have. Rock Street is known as the street of champions because of all the All-Ireland medals and it's a very proud club.

"We struggled for a while there in the mid-2000s and it was tough because there was so much expectancy all the time. It'd be like if you were in with Kerry and all of a sudden you'd gone 20 years without winning an All-Ireland. There'd be huge pressure.

"I said to fellas that even driving up through Connolly Park, the estate on the way up to our club grounds, that the road will get wider and wider now.

"But for the last 10 years it was getting smaller and smaller like the houses were going to fall in on top of me if I didn't help deliver a county championship. It will be a small bit wider now thank God."

There's exciting times ahead for Kerry and Donaghy but Ballincollig demand all of his attention now.

Stacks moved back to the top of the roll of honour along with Laune Rangers on 12 county titles but for all of the club's history, Donaghy admits they should have achieved more beyond the county boundaries.

"This team was so focused on getting over the county final hurdle that no one was looking down the line.

"As soon as we won you could see it, fellas knew who we were playing and the focus started on the Munster club straight away.

"For a team like us where no one has a county senior medal, it would be wrong to be looking ahead before we played against Mid Kerry.

"And if you did that you'd probably be beaten on the day. We're taking it one game at a time all year and we'll keep that going.

"We'll study Ballincollig and see what they are offering. We know they had an unbelievable comeback (against Carbery Rangers). Any team that wins a Cork county championship and comes back from eight points down is a team that is very together I'd say and has a good bond. They stuck together when the going was tough. They'll be a serious test."

Only when their run is at and end, will he start to process the captaincy and all that it entails.

"The captaincy is in the back of my head still. I will tackle it as best I can but it's something I'm not going to think about until I get back in with the group.

"My focus now is with Stacks and we have a huge game on Sunday in Tralee.

"It's a huge occasion for the club. We haven't won many Munster clubs and for the great teams we have had we probably should have won more outside of the county. There is no real pressure on us, we can just attack the game.

"I don't think anyone in Kerry was expecting us to win in Kerry. They might have had us on the radar but having seen us fail badly in two finals they probably thought we didn't have it in us to go on and win it.

"We have to go on now and try and win the next day. That would be huge for the club."

Kieran Donaghy is an ambassador for PST Sport who are title sponsor of Austin Stacks and Ireland's leading installer of synthetic grass pitches. For details, see www.pst-sport.ie

Irish Independent