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'Both of them eventualities weren't something that appealed to me, I didn't want to face either of them'

Kieran Donaghy on retirement from Kerry and looking ahead to 2019.

Kieran Donaghy with Kerry after last August's game against Kildare.
Kieran Donaghy with Kerry after last August's game against Kildare.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ON 11 SEPTEMBER last year, Kieran Donaghy brought his Kerry senior career to a close after 14 seasons of service.

Just under four weeks later Kerry entrusted their managerial reins to a new boss as Peter Keane’s appointed was rubber-stamped.

The timing of Donaghy’s departure was telling. The 35-year-old sought to announce his retirement before Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s successor was unveiled.

He didn’t fancy someone trying to tempt him to commit to the cause for another season in 2019 and the prospect of being informed he was being cut from plans when he was set to go again, was not a palatable scenario to contend with either. 

“Both of them eventualities weren’t something that appealed to me, I didn’t want to face either.

“Afraid that my arm could be twisted and afraid that I’d get the phone call or not get the phone call and he goes, ‘Kieran, thanks for your 14 years but we’re going in another direction’.

“That would be a killer that, that would happen. I talked to my family, talked to my wife, we’ve two young kids and I’m flat out working. Basketball is really busy. I want to give the club a year or two.

“It’s been well documented that in 2014 it was very close to not being in my own hands. But it was never something that I said I want to make sure I retire before I’m pushed or anything like that.

“It was just I wanted to go because all year I’d said to Hilary it was my last spin, every training session I was going to, I was very much aware this could be the last time in training, this could be the last drive over to training.

“That’s the way my brain was working and when we beat Kildare but were knocked out in Killarney and Éamonn retired in the dressing-room and myself and Darran left the dressing-room last, it was just all the signals were reaffirming what I already thought.

“I started my last game for Kerry at 35 years of age in Killarney and it was a nice way for me to finish. It’s as good as it can be at 35, I think.

“It’s when it doesn’t work out in the end then you have that kind of sour taste when you finish.

“Obviously fairytale stuff is that you go on to win an All-Ireland and retire like Darragh O’Se at 35 but that’s not the norm.”

Peil Paidi O Se 2018 8022 Kieran Donaghy and Lyndsey Davey at yesterday's launch of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé.

With another season about to swing sharply into view, Donaghy has not started wrestling again with his decision in the early parts of 2019.

“Not really, I think I extracted as much out of myself. It’s a really fast paced game and doing yourself justice is a big thing in the game.

“I’m sure I’ll be sitting there thinking, ‘It would be lovely to be out there’, but there’s lovely to be out there and there’s working your arse off for nine months to be right for it.

“You have to really trust that your body is going to be fine through all that and that you’re lucky enough that you’re injury free come the summer to play championship.

“There’s an awful lot of variables there when you’re my size and playing both sports for a long time, and throwing my body the way I do around the place.

“I felt it was just the right time to go and it’s just a new kind of thing so it’s nice to kind of sit back and turn into a fan again, and just watch the boys and cheer them on next year.”

He had a sense throughout the 2018 campaign that he would not be the only figure to depart the Kerry scene. Anthony Maher, Darran O’Sullivan and Donnchadh Walsh all joined the retirement club over the winter.

“Anthony worked really hard to get through the year, (had) bad hip injuries. I knew Darran could be possibly leaning that way as well and I knew Donnchadh had a lot going on with physio and opportunities in Dublin that he was turning down to play with Kerry. He’s thinking about the next part of his life too, he’s engaged now.

“So yeah I knew there’d a good few guys going. I didn’t want to be the only auld fella round the place, trying to enlighten all these youngsters.”

Kieran Donaghy takes to the field Kieran Donaghy enters the pitch at Fitzgerald Stadium before his last appearance as a Kerry senior player. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His playing days may have ground to a halt but considering a future role on the sideline is not something he is inclined to dismiss.

“It’s something that I’d like to probably do and I’d like to test myself in and keep the competitive edge going when I finish playing.

“It’s certainly something that’s very challenging now and I like challenges.”

Would managing Kerry be a challenge he would like to embrace?

“Awh, Kerry is a tough one because I’ve a good relationship with the fans in Kerry and it’s about the only place I have a good relationship with fans so I don’t want to spoil it!

“And that’s what happens if you go in and you don’t do the business for Kerry. Look, it’s obviously the ultimate job for a Kerry person.

“But I’d want to be very sure of myself that I was actually good of management because I could go in and be shit at management.

“I need to make sure that I know what I’m about and know what I want them to implement and that I can do it. That I can do the job justice.

“If I felt I could do that then if it came up my way you’d certainly have to look at it.”

He’s looking forward to watching a new Kerry side packed with promising youngsters begin to take shape.

In the 2019 Gaelic football season, the overarching theme will be Dublin’s pursuit of five-in-a-row. But it’s not something Donaghy feels the current camp should dwell on, they have different targets to focus on.

“It’s exciting in Kerry now at the moment because we don’t know what’s coming this year, we don’t know what way we’re going to be playing. We don’t know what tactics are going to be used.

“You’ve got that youthful exuberance that could just do stuff that is a bit off the cuff and is a bit special, and a good few of these young fellas are special.

“Of course it’s going to be tough to go beat this Dublin team that’s going for five-in-a-row and have all the experience and confidence that comes from winning that many All-Irelands and kind of a sense of never being beaten.

“But look, Kerry haven’t got to play Dublin in the last two or three years. I would very much say if I was in Peter Keane’s shoes now, Dublin would be the last thing in my mind. It would be about getting my team going and getting my team playing well – trying to get to an All-Ireland semi-final is the first thing we’ve to do, you know.

“We lost in two of them in ’16 and ’17 and didn’t even get to one last year. So we’re miles off it as of now. But look, it’s never going to change in Kerry, when you put on the jersey people want you to win All-Irelands.

“If he thinks he’s going to get a big two or three years to bring this team through it’s not going to happen, that’s the reality of it. They’ll get the league and they’ll get the Munster Championship, then it will be kind of step up to the plate.”

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Kieran Donaghy was speaking at the launch of the 3oth anniversary of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé, which will take place on the Dingle Peninsula from 15-17 February. 44 adult men’s and ladies club teams will take part.

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Fintan O'Toole

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