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'I am still able to hack it around like I do on the golf course' - Donaghy chasing Kerry glory at 38

The veteran forward remains central to the Austin Stacks challenge as they face tomorrow’s county final.

Kieran Donaghy.
Kieran Donaghy.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Dec 4th 2021, 3:02 PM

KIERAN DONAGHY CASTS his mind back two decades.

On Kerry county final weekend, he can recall being involved in a game of such stature back in 2001.

“Martin Courtney and myself were brought into to the Stacks senior championship squad at the time by our minor manager at the time, Frank Courtney, into the 2001 championship run.

“I know the young fellas how they feel that are inside in our dressing room now, because I was that soldier back in 2001. The first day involved for me was beating Crokes in the semi-final in Austin Stack Park.

“Unfortunately we did not go on and win the final as we lost to a great An Ghaeltacht team in 2001, but that was a good insight and learning curve as to what championship football at that level was all about.”

The following season they crossed paths with An Ghaeltacht again, a mid-summer clash that sparked headlines for the potential impact it had in derailing Kerry’s county challenge.

“My next championship action was that famous game in Gallarus in 2002 where Darragh Ó Sé was shown a red card and all hell broke loose. I don’t think his uncle Paidí was too happy to meet Darragh heading out the gate as he was coming in.

“We were talking recently and Darragh was asking how we were actually playing a championship game two weeks before an All-Ireland semi-final but that was the way things were back then.

“It was my first start and I was playing wing-forward and to be out there with the boys and playing against players of calibre of the Ó Sé brothers, Dara Ó Cinnéide and Aodhán MacGearailt was a tremendous opportunity for me to see where I was at and to give me a taste for it.”

Here Donaghy is, 39 next March, and preparing for another decider that will determine who the kings of Kerry foobtall are.

It’s three years since he hung up his inter-county boots and his current schedule is not a quiet one. This year was spent juggling work and family commitments, along with basketball for Tralee Warriors, a coaching position with the Armagh footballers and some punditry work for Sky Sports.

Facilitating Austin Stacks in the midst of all that, was enabled by an understanding coach.

“Wayne Quillinan would be a big part of keeping me playing over the last year or two. The body is allowing me to compete out there. I know there are many great players who would have loads of drive and would love to be still play, but their bodies gave up on them. I am still able to hack it around like I do on the golf course. 

“I am an energetic person; I have loads of energy like my dad and mom so that kind of explains why I am still competing and playing with Stacks. I love trying to win things both from a personal level and a playing perspective.

“I was hungry as soon as I retired from Kerry to get coaching experience and I have done bits and pieces that have really helped me so far.

“Wayne knew that I had interest in the coaching side and probably made it possible for me to play. He would be a demanding coach and everybody buys into him. It isn’t a thing that you come back in July and join in for five or six months. These fellas have been going pretty hard from February or March, they were doing gym sessions during lockdown and I would check in the odd time and it was inspiring to see that stuff going on at that time of year.

“Wayne left the door open for me to come back and play. Once Armagh finished I was probably back in training the following week. As for the basketball, John Dowling has been very good with me and I have only played a few minutes of the Cup game and since then it has been full concentration on the Stacks.”

The stakes tomorrow are considerable, a final pitting Stacks against their Tralee rivals Kerins O’Rahillys.

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The atmosphere will be highly charged in Austin Stack Pack, the town has been bristling with anticipation since the semi-final outcomes and Donaghy appreciates the value of this for their club fans.

“Look our supporters are fantastic and I was glad to say to Hillary (his wife) to get Lola Rose and Indie in the parade. I remember I was in the parade when Stacks won the county final in 1994, I was around 11 I think. It’s a lovely tradition that the Stacks have and they enjoy it.

“The supporters are fantastic and they make noise and they roar us on. Its banter led, it’s colourful, and it brings great support to us on the pitch. At times we need that support. In 2014 I remember when Mid Kerry got the goal, we were all a bit devastated by such an early goal, but I was jogging back out the pitch and the terrace came alive again and it lifted us.

“If you take the Dubs, they are soaking up energy from their fans in the Hill and invariably it has probably helped the Dubs over the line in big games. Our supporters do the same for us and that tradition is lovely.

“Absolutely when I finish up playing, I will be bringing the kids along for the day and I will be on the terraces with the supporters.”

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