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'I'd say Donaghy got a fair shock when Gooch retired...It definitely upset him that he was gone'

Marc Ó Sé discusses Kieran Donaghy’s return to prominence.

ASK ANY PLAYER from Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone or Dublin if they’ve been keeping an eye on the narrative in the media this week and you’ll get a predictable answer.

Kieran Donaghy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But they’re only human. Back in the day, steering clear of the press amounted to avoiding the newspaper section in shops. Nowadays, with the advent of social media, it’s unavoidable.

The Mayo and Kerry squads will be well aware that Kieran Donaghy, and how Mayo will stop him, has dominated the chatter in the build-up to today’s game. Everyone has an opinion on who Mayo should put on him.

Donaghy’s fellow inside forwards James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney were probably looking on with interest at the inordinate amount of coverage ‘Star’ got this week. As Aidan O’Shea can attest to – sometimes the big man gets all the attention, even if it’s unwarranted.

Former Kerry midfielder Micheal Quirke made a great point when he spoke to Off The Ball on Thursday night.

“The reality of it is if you look at that full-forward line, Donaghy out of the three is the least skilfull, he has the lowest scoring average, the lowest skill,” he said.

“Geaney and O’Donoghue have more speed, they’re more dangerous, they’re scoring more goals and yet Donaghy is the guy that Mayo are trying to scheme to lessen his effectiveness.”

Kerry’s full-forward line so far in the 2017 championship

Clare: O’Donoghue 0-9 (0-5f), Geaney 0-4 (0-2f)

Cork: Geaney 1-5, O’Donoghue 0-7 (0-4f), Donaghy 0-1

Galway: Donaghy 1-1, Geaney 0-4 (0-1f), O’Donoghue 0-1 (0-1f)

James O'Donoghue Source: James Crombie/INPHO

This has all the hallmarks of a game where Geaney and O’Donoghue cut loose and issue a stark reminder of their talent. Both men were off-colour against the Tribesmen. Forwards of their ability generally don’t put two poor performances back-to-back.

Joe Brolly’s remarks this week that O’Donoghue was ‘selfish’ and ‘over-rated’ will give the Killarney Legion man even extra motivation, if it was needed for a game of this magnitude.

Much of the discussion on Donaghy has centred around his lazarus-like return in 2014, but don’t forget it was O’Donoghue who won Footballer of the Year and Geaney who scored a crucial early goal in the final that meant Donegal had to chase the game.

After Donaghy’s masterful impact against Mayo in the semi-finals that year, all the talk heading into September surrounded the threat he posed at full-forward. But Eamonn Fitzmaurice pulled the Austin Stacks man outfield in the early stages and isolated Paul Geaney on the edge of the square.

Paul Geaney scores a goal Geaney scores early on in the 2014 All-Ireland final Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Just 50 seconds into the game, Stephen O’Brien lofted a long, high delivery into Geaney who had just Paddy McGrath for company in front of goal. He caught, swivelled and smashed it past Paul Durcan. Mayo will have to be on their guard for a similar tactic today.

“I’d like to see a bit of a balance with the ball that goes in, that it’s not all just high ball into Donaghy,” Marc Ó Sé tells The42.

“If you look at the inside line now, you’ve Geaney, Donaghy and O’Donoghue. Three match-winners on their day. If you can have the three of those fellas performing to the best of their abilities, that’s going to be huge for Kerry. It’s an area where Kerry can really find joy if they get quick ball in.

“Hopefully there’s a bit of a balance in the style of play that James and Paul are getting ball as well. We all know they’re deadly in front of goal and it’s important Kerry get that right.”

Still, it must be said that Donaghy’s return to prominence has been remarkable. When he didn’t get a run off the bench during Kerry’s routine quarter-final win over Galway three years ago, his race looked over.

Kieran Donaghy and manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice Donaghy warms up near Fitzmaurice during the 2014 Munster final Source: James Crombie/INPHO

He had battled back from a run of hip and groin injuries before a dislocated shoulder that April proved a significant set-back. He made five-minute cameos against Clare and Cork in Munster, but failing to get a run against the Tribesmen was a hammer blow.

“I remember him coming down on the train that night,” says  Ó Sé. “I knew him well so I could see that inside he was disappointed, but he wasn’t going to show that to the players. What he was going to do was put his head down afterwards, which he did do.”

It was a bank holiday Sunday and he didn’t join the team for a night on the town, instead putting down a “tough enough night of just thinking” at home on his couch.

“My nan kept saying, ‘I thought they should have put you on against Galway, (their) fellas were doing well around the middle of the field,” he said after picking up Player of the Month for September later that year.

“I was like ‘I know nan, sure they should have put me on,’” he laughed. “Them kind of people get you going again and say look, come on, keep going.”

He didn’t drop his head and that was no surprise to Ó Sé.

“That’s Donaghy,” the three-time All-Star says. “There’s never a sad story with Donaghy. I mean the influence he had. Realistically all Donaghy played that year was the semi-final for around 10 minutes, the replay and the All-Ireland.

Kieran Donaghy celebrates scoring a goal with James O’Donoghue Donaghy celebrates his goal in the 2014 final Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“He had such an influence that he got an All-Star. Incredible fella the way he can have that influence on a team.”

The next night at training, Fitzmaurice informed Donaghy he made a mistake by not giving him game time. That man-management paid off when ‘Star’ dug them out of a hole against Mayo, and helped them to victory in the replay.

His 52nd minute goal against Donegal, after a dreadful Paul Durcan error, effectively sealed Kerry’s All-Ireland.

Fast forward to 2017 and he’s still a human wrecking ball on the edge of the square.  Ó Sé fully expected him to throw his lot in for another year.

“Kieran is the type of fella, he always keeps himself in good shape. He trains hard. If he’s not playing football he’s playing basketball. He was playing basketball all season. He makes no secret of the fact that basketball helps him out with his game in terms of fitness, agility and all of that.

“For a fella to win the basketball championship this year and the following week tog off in the national league final, it spoke volumes of how tuned in he was and where he was mentally. He really wanted it. Since he’s come back he’s playing outstanding stuff for Kerry.

“He’s one of the older members now of this Kerry team. He’s just a great character around the place. He uses positivity. A great guy in the dressing room and a great fella for the younger fellas to be able to bounce things off as well.

James O’Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy share a joke Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Kieran Donaghy with Gerry Gowran Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I think he’s been a huge influence on this Kerry team. I’m sure Eamonn Fitzmaurice loves to have the likes of him around the place.”

He’d already confirmed he was giving it another year, when Colm Cooper announced his decision to step away in April.

Donaghy was rocked by the news. The two knew each other since they were children, and they’d developed a telepathic relationship on the field together. Nobody appreciated what ‘Star’ brought to the table more than the Dr Crokes attacker.

“His eyes nearly jumped out of his head,” Cooper told the Irish Independent. ”I think he was a little gutted because we’re last of the old stock in a way.

“I suppose when Kieran committed to going back, he reckoned I would too. He didn’t say it, but I know that’s what he was really thinking.”

Kieran Donaghy celebrates with Colm Cooper after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ó Sé continues: ”I’d say Donaghy got a fair shock when Gooch retired because he’d be the type of fella, he wouldn’t want to lose anyone.

“It definitely upset him that Gooch was gone. It upset all the team because of what Gooch brings in terms of leadership, skill and everything. We all know what the Gooch brings.

“Losing a player like that was always going to be a very hard thing to replace. Guys like Gooch are irreplaceable. They only come around once in a lifetime.”

The big question ahead of today is who Stephen Rochford will trust to deal with Kerry’s trio of potent inside forwards.

“I’d say they’re going to put Vaughan on Donaghy,” remarks Ó Sé. “I’d expect (Brendan) Harrison to go on Paul Geaney and Keith Higgins on James just because he knows James, he knows his style of play and he did well on him in the past.

Marc O Se Former Kerry star, Marc Ó’Sé is the latest GAA stalwart to take part in the Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour Series. Marc is one of the many GAA greats who will host tours of Croke Park as part of the 2017 Legends Tour series. The next tour will take place on August 26, where former Tyrone footballer Enda McGinley will take GAA fans on a trip down memory lane. Bord Gáis Energy customers have exclusive access to these once-in-a-life-time tours through the Bord Gáis Energy Rewards Club. For ticket information log on to: www.crokepark.ie/gaa-museum.

Bord Gáis Energy GAA Museum Legends Tour Series Launch Marc Ó Sé of Kerry was at GAA Headquarters for the launch of this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour Series. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

“I thought he was man of the match against Roscommon and he was the Keith Higgins of old. There’s going to be a massive dual between himself and, I’d imagine, James O’Donoghue because they’ve had great duals in the past.

“The two games in ’14 in the semi-final in Dublin and the replay in Limerick, they were worth the entrance fee alone just to watch the two lads going at it. You could say both of them had outstanding games.”

Donaghy has hogged the limelight this week, but at the same time this game is poised for Geaney or O’Donoghue to put their name up in lights.

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Kevin O'Brien

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