The rise and rise of Kieran Donaghy
September 11, 2006
Kieran Donaghy Kerry
The youthful face of Kieran Donaghy has come to dominate Kerry's march to the All-Ireland final, but the 23-year-old is bemused by all the hype that has surrounded him as he explains.
If Kerry should claim their 34th All-Ireland football title on September 17, the decision to deploy midfielder Kieran Donaghy as a full forward will be rightly hailed as the catalyst for the success.
Rarely has Gaelic football seen a switch come off so spectacularly. Just a couple of months ago, Kerry appeared to be a team with serious problems after they surrendered their Munster crown to Cork. But with his back firmly to the wall, Kerry boss Jack O'Connor produced his trump card. It involved converting Kieran Donaghy from a midfielder to a full forward.
The results have been remarkable. With the Austin Stacks man providing a focal point to their attack, the Kingdom have been totally rejuvenated. Aside from his imposing 6'4 frame and the problems this poses for defenders, it's Donaghy's work-rate, vision, ball-handling skills and ability to create chances for others that have given a new edge to Kerry going forward.
The 23-year-old target man demolished Longford to get Kerry's season back on track, and another fine display against Armagh in the All-Ireland quarter-final was crowned with a brilliant second half goal. Donaghy was also highly influential as the Kingdom avenged their Munster final replay loss to Cork to qualify for their third Sam Maguire Cup decider in as many years.
His performances have not only illuminated Kerry's summer, but have also made him the hottest property in football. So how is he coping with his new-found fame? With little difficulty it seems.
"I don't pay much attention to the stuff that's written about me. I've been staying away from the papers. My mother, Deirdre, has been collecting them for me, though, and I might have a look at them when the championship is over.
"Media coverage is part and parcel of the game and I have no problem with that. But it would be very easy to believe in all the hype. If you did that, you'd be setting yourself up for a big fall," he says.
The sports shop employee is somewhat perplexed by all the media attention, and would rather see unsung heroes such as full back Michael McCarthy receiving the praise.
"It's all very strange because when I was playing at midfield, nobody seemed to notice me," he laughs.
"I'm puzzled by the amount of media attention I'm getting to be honest with you. What I can't understand is why I'm getting more praise than the likes of Seamus Moynihan, Darragh O Se or Mike McCarthy - they're the ones that should be getting the credit.
"Mike made two great blocks in the semi-final against Cork, but this was hardly mentioned afterwards. From my experience, it only seems to be the forwards who get praised."
Amid all the hype, it's easy to forget that Kieran, whose father Oliver hails from Omagh, is preparing for his first All-Ireland final. He was on the panel for the All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final wins over Dublin and Derry respectively in 2004, but made way for the returning Seamus Moynihan for the All-Ireland final against Mayo. Indeed, he had to wait until this year to make his championship debut against Waterford, partnering Darragh O Se at midfield. He was controversially sent off in the drawn Munster final against Cork and missed the replay defeat in Pairc Ui Chaoimh as a result.
"After spending the last two years on the subs bench, I'm just delighted to be on the team. I'll play anyway Jack O'Connor wants me to. I've played a bit of club football at full forward, so it wasn't a position I was unfamiliar with.
"It's a great situation to be in, preparing for an All-Ireland final. I was in the stands for the 1997, 2000 and 2004 finals and the two lads from Austin Stacks, Pa Laide and William Kirby, were idols of mine. I'd love to be able to emulate what they achieved and to bring another All-Ireland medal back to the club."
The Tralee man explains how he owes a great deal to Seamus Moynihan for providing him with the inspiration to reach the heights he has this season.
"The older lads have been inspirational, especially Seamus. The leadership he gives is unreal. He was an inspiration when I was a kid watching him and now it's even more inspirational playing alongside him.
"He helped me to settle in the first day I played at full forward against Longford. Things went well for me at the start of that game and I gained a lot of confidence from that."
Kieran also owes much to his basketball background. During his school days in Tralee CBS, he was encouraged to play the sport by Kerry great John O'Keeffe. He helped Tralee Tigers to win the Superleague in his debut season last year, but after talks with Jack O'Connor, decided to concentrate on Kerry for 2006.
Donaghy made one appearance for the Tigers this year, when he was introduced at half-time in their match against local rivals Killarney. He had just completed a Kerry training session, but inspired the Tigers to a three-point win after they had trailed by nine at half-time.
"The basketball has definitely stood to me. John O'Keeffe told me it would help my football career when he taught me PE in school. You are more aware of where your team-mates are on the basketball court and your handling is that bit better.
"I love football and basketball equally. I'd be bored if I didn't have some game to play at the weekend."
Many people have likened Donaghy to Eoin 'Bomber' Liston, who burst onto the scene as Mick O'Dwyer's secret weapon when Kerry destroyed Dublin in the 1978 All-Ireland final, and became a Kingdom legend by helping the county win seven All-Irelands in nine years. But 'Star', as he's known to his friends and team-mates, insists that he has a long way to go before he can be compared to Kerry's most famous number 14.
"I was too young to remember 'Bomber' playing, but I've watched him on the 'Golden Years' video loads of times and he was a class act. It's very flattering to be compared to him, but I'd need to play in a good few All-Ireland finals to be in the same league as him," he says.
Donaghy first came to the attention of many GAA followers when he featured on the reality TV programme 'Underdogs'. He was chosen from hundreds of hopefuls to line out against his native Kerry in a one-off match at the end of 2004. In a huge upset, the 'Underdogs' beat the then reigning All-Ireland champions with Donaghy contributing two points to the winners' tally.
"It was very weird playing against Kerry of all teams. But it was a great experience overall. It gave me a feel for training in wintry conditions. Up until then, I had spent my winters playing basketball indoors so it was very beneficial from that point of view."
The 23-year-old now finds himself looking forward to the biggest game of his fledgling inter-county career.
"It'll be tough," he acknowledges. "Mayo have been winning convincingly all year and will take a lot of stopping. But at least supporters can be assured of a good spectacle.
"Armagh was a big obstacle for us to get over because we knew it would set up our year. Cork were very under-rated by people and they gave us another tough game in the semi-final.
"We've improved a lot over the last few games and are creating plenty of scoring chances again. We've a nice bit of momentum behind us and hopefully it will stay with us for one more game."
Don't bet against the 'Star' rising even higher.
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