Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: -2°C Saturday 17 April 2021

James O'Donoghue: 'No mad science' behind my Cork masterclass

James O’Donoghue knows that Kerry had a lot to prove this summer but they’re starting to answer those questions.

O'Donoghue: can Galway stop him on Sunday?
O'Donoghue: can Galway stop him on Sunday?
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

JAMES O’DONOGHUE IS brimming with confidence and that can only be a good thing for Kerry.

Not so much for Galway who square up against the Kingdom on Sunday in the first of this year’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals.

Once Tipperary were dispatched, you can bet that Alan Mullholland got straight to work on patching the defensive frailties that saw them leak four goals in the second half.

That Tipp blitz didn’t cost them in the end but it will certainly sharpen Galway’s focus. If they allow O’Donoghue and his fellow forwards anything like that kind of freedom in Croke Park, there’s no doubting the outcome.

Just ask Cork — they couldn’t get a handle on the young Killarney Legion man in the Munster final and he made them pay. He finished with 10 points, eight of which came from play, in a superb Man of the Match performance.

Was that his best day yet in the green and gold?

“It’s got to be up there because I haven’t played that many games,” he smiles.

“Cork had to come out of the traps against us in the second half. I don’t know what we were up – six or seven points at half-time – so they had to come out and attack.

“They left space at the back, we managed to punish them. There was no mad science behind it.

It was just a bit of luck on the day and it probably won’t happen again.

Cork may have conspired in their own downfall but the clinical nature of Kerry’s performance quickly made fools out of those who hastily wrote them off as Championship also-rans.

A few days later O’Donoghue was back in club colours for an equally satisfying win as Legion knocked out Dr Crokes and derailed their bid for a county five-in-a-row.

“I’d be a big club man so to beat the Crokes in a club championship was big for us.

“We hadn’t beaten them in a long time. It was nice for the people of Legion and we’ll have the bragging rights in town for a while.

“It wasn’t a bad seven days, that’s for sure. The Cork game was huge for us. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform and we did, thank God. And then we went into the club game and did the same so good week.”

James OÕDonoghue and Kieran Donaghy celebrate at the final whistle O'Donoghue celebrates at the final whistle with Kieran Donaghy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He adds: “There was a lot of negativity about Kerry for a while. People were thinking we were not going to offer anything in the Championship and that can be tough to deal with.

When we lined out against Cork we had a lot of questions to answer and I think that’s the best way to go into a game. When you have questions to answer you have extra impetus. I think that we used that well.

Those questions had been lingering for a while. Retirements and Colm Cooper’s season-ending injury had hit hard and nobody down the Kingdom way appeared confident that O’Donoghue and the next generation were ready to take up the mantle.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

As the “sixth forward” in an ensemble cast, O’Donoghue only ever needed to chip in with a couple of points here and there during his first few seasons. The rest of the time, his job was to facilitate the big boys.

A breakout season in 2013 earned him his first All-Star — and also the dubious honour of joining Connie Murphy as only the second footballer to win the award but not an All-Ireland with Kerry.

But shorn of all that experience, the new season brought a new challenge for O’Donoghue.

“Maybe it’s better to be just thrown in at the deep end and [be told], ‘You’ve got to go and win us this game, see what you can do,’ he muses.

He scored 5-24 but as a team, Kerry’s league form hardly inspired confidence. When Cork completely overran them and won by 10 points back in April, the natives reached for the ‘R’ word: rebuilding.

James OÕDonoghue scores a goal O'Donoghue hit a hattrick in the league game against Tyrone and put up 5-24 in total. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“There was a lot of people pretty despondent in Kerry but I personally had that game forgotten within an hour. It was a once-off.

“We were safe in the league, we were going nowhere. Cork were going brilliant at the time and I think that they wanted to bury and put down a stamp for the championship game.

We didn’t step up to the plate or perform at all. That was the disappointing thing but I think it was very much a personal response to that game. Fellas had to go home and think about themselves rather than the team performance.

“You had to go home and think about your own performance and what you did wrong, what your preparation was and do you really want it. Sometimes you need that to ask questions.”

Cuthbert: Underdogs Cork need strong referee to police ‘streetwise’ Mayo

About the author:

Niall Kelly

Read next: