Tuesday 25 June 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: Many have won All-Irelands with Kerry - but Kieran Donaghy is one of the few to have won them for Kerry

21 September 2014; Kerry's Kieran Donaghy lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Final, Kerry v Donegal. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE
21 September 2014; Kerry's Kieran Donaghy lifts the Sam Maguire Cup. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Final, Kerry v Donegal. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Tomás Ó Sé

When you're an inter-county footballer you get so swallowed up by your own stuff that things often pass you by.

You're in your own little world, worrying about your training, your football, your food. Worrying about yourself basically and not much else. And when you're in that frame of mind, lots of things pass you by, even a 6'5" lad from Tralee that is brought in.

You're so wrapped up in yourself for so long that it doesn't leave you for a good while. When someone asked me this week about Kieran Donaghy and his breakthrough season in 2006, my first thought wasn't that we found a new weapon or that we won the All-Ireland. It was that was the worst year I had in a Kerry jersey by some distance.

Donaghy came around the place first in 2005. I knew he played for Stacks and he played a bit of basketball. And I remember looking at his boots thinking I could get in one of them and paddle it down a river.

I recall too that he was warm and engaging and as genuine as they come.

After that I don't remember much about him. Being honest, he wasn't exactly pulling up trees at club level with 'The Rock'. He was seen as a midfielder but we were well-served there with William Kirby, Darragh and Tommy Griffin.

Looking back we had no idea what sort of weapon we had just discovered.

I still remember the build-up to that game against Longford. At that stage we were an ailing side. Cork had beaten us and we were vulnerable. The players knew it. Jack knew it. We were dead men walking.

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But before that game the last thing Jack said to me before the ball was thrown in that day was, 'let it in to your man'.

That day, 'Star' was born.

I was taken off in that game so I packed up my stuff and jumped in the car and was nearly back in Cork by the time Donaghy had completed his demolition job. We went on and won what had looked like an unlikely All-Ireland.

I knew then what 'Micko' meant when he talked about the impact 'Bomber' made on the team when he came into the side. Donaghy gave us new life.

From there he went on to have a great Kerry career. There's not much I can say about him that football people won't already know.

Around the country in 2007 there was a spate of beanpoles popping up at full-forward, trying to replicate what he did. They couldn't get close.

Maybe then people started to appreciate the finesse in his game. They broke the mould when they made Donaghy.

Aside from his natural talents he worked as hard on his game as anyone I have seen. Every time he went out he was a little better, a little stronger. He was a pig to go up against in tackling drills too. It was like being tackled by an octopus.

His football improved so much. Back in 2005 he needed planning permission to take a solo but that tightened up. He could win ball out in front and when he played out around the middle he could mix it with anyone.

And I can also tell you that he was the best man in the dressing-room. He's a pure rogue, exactly the kind of fella you need when 30-odd lads are spending every spare minute together.

I remember himself and Darragh got on the phone to Darran O'Sullivan one night. Darran had just been made Kerry captain and the boys rang him up pretending to be a reporter.

Darran was totally taken in by the call, and he answered all the questions, talking about what an honour it was for his club and family to be captain and how he hoped it would bring out the best in him.

He only copped that he was being taking for a spin when he was asked about how much, eh, manscaping, he did. At that point Donaghy's big laugh in the background gave it away.

And that was 'Starryboy', as we called him. He could be with one of the senior lads like Darragh one minute and then in with the youngest lad on the squad the next. He had a way with the supporters too. They loved that he was both a throwback to the days of 'Bomber' as well as a glimpse of something completely new.

A measure of the power of his personality came when the two basketball teams in Tralee came together under the one banner. I'm certain that he helped in no small way for that to happen. He's a natural leader and has a big future in whatever he decides to pursue.

Kerry will miss him. He led the line brilliantly against Monaghan when the chips were down. I think there was another year in him. Weighing up this year, there were plenty of others who might have walked before him.

Still, he's made up his mind and that should be respected. I was delighted to see the reaction he got when he announced his retirement. Down the line, I'd love to see him back in with Kerry in some capacity.

For now though we should leave him off. I wish Kieran, Hilary, Lola Rose and Indie all the best in the future. Kieran, I hope we cross paths on the golf course so I can lighten your pockets just like I did all those years ago on the train to Dublin for big matches.

We're left with the memories now. In that 2006 season he rescued us. And there's no way we'd have won that All-Ireland in 2014 without him. I heard it said during the week that many men had won All-Irelands with Kerry but very few had won All-Irelands for Kerry.

Donaghy did. There's no greater compliment than that.

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