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'I could have been the bigger man in the situation and I wasn't. Then you're looking at him in the coffin'

Kieran Donaghy’s relationship with his father is a central theme in his upcoming Laochra Gael episode.

Kieran Donaghy speaking during his Laochra Gael.
Kieran Donaghy speaking during his Laochra Gael.
Image: TG4

KIERAN DONAGHY OPENS up about the strained relationship he had with his father in his upcoming Laochra Gael episode. 

Two years after breaking onto the Kerry team, Donaghy recalls sitting on the team bus on the way to Croke Park ahead of the 2008 All-Ireland final against Tyrone – the county where his father Oliver lived. 

A newspaper was produced by one of his team-mates which featured an image of the full-forward’s father wearing a jersey that was half-Kerry, half-Tyrone.

“I’m well aware of how the media works and I knew a good journalist would find a line to my aul lad in north,” he says in the episode.

“I remember ringing him and just going, ‘Look, they’ll be coming to you now. They’ll say they’ll only take a few words but it will turn into something big. I’d prefer if you didn’t.’

“Because I knew the media attention I’d have from having a parent from Tyrone – that it would be a great story for people. So I was like, ‘I’m not talking, so you don’t talk.’

“I opened up the newspaper on the Saturday on the way up to Croke Park and there was a two-page spread of him with a half-Tyrone half-Kerry jersey that they brought with them. It wasn’t the best thing to be looking on a Saturday heading up for a game and your team-mates looking at it as well.  

“It wasn’t ideal. Relatively it had nothing to do (with the game). Maybe it did, I don’t know. But I know I didn’t perform great.

“I ended up falling out with him after the game when we were having the row afterwards. This was obviously after the dust settled of the result. 

“It was, ‘They said it was only going to be a tiny thing.’ I was like, ‘Look, I told you not to do one thing. I didn’t need that.’ 

“When I look back on it now, I didn’t talk to him for a while after that. I was probably taking an easy option as well in maybe casting some of the blame of my relatively poor performance. Maybe I was casting some of the blame off as well on him. Maybe he was an easy target.” 

That dispute caused a rift that was never resolved. A few years later, it was too late.

“I just got a phone call through and I knew straight away. I saw the northern number and it was my auntie telling me that my dad had passed during the night. I just went home in a daze really.

“I didn’t know what to think because I hadn’t been on great terms with him at that stage. It’s always a danger when you’re arguing and fighting with someone in the family that if something happens you never get time back to have it out with them.

“I felt that I should have maybe gone up and had it out with him face to face. I could have been the bigger man in the situation and I wasn’t. Then you’re looking at him in the coffin getting ready to put him into the ground. All the what-ifs come up.”

They had an up-and-down relationship over the years, that caused some anger issues in a young Kieran.

“It was alcohol, it was gambling. When he was down that road, you’d just know by him. Id know from his demeanour, he was different. That’s when he had drink on board. The spark had almost gone out of him when he was in that mode. My mom did a good job of keeping it from us.

“I wouldn’t have dealt with it too well. Because it was a case of when they did split up my dad would have been like, ‘Oh have a chat with your mom, I’m better now. I’m not doing this I’m not doing that.’

“I would have gone home to mom going, ‘Mom, dad is okay now, he’s in a better place. You need to take him back.’ And it would have been very hard for my mom because she would have put up with so much that we didn’t see. 

“Sport was my refuge the more I think about it. I struggled in school and the rage that was inside me spilt out onto any fella who was at me that was so unlike me. I was such a relaxed, kind natured kid that wouldn’t be like that at all. For the first time ever I was in getting in trouble in school for stuff like that.  

“This was now confrontational fisty cuffs inside in school as a 10 and 11-year-old.”

  • Kieran Donaghy’s Laochra Gael airs on Thursday 5 March on TG4 at 9.30pm

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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