GAA Football

Donaghy: We owed Tyrone one

Kerry captain Kieran Donaghy has experienced a renaissance in the twilight of his career
Jason O'Connor

BEING Kerry captain is something that he has managed to take in his stride so far but as Kieran Donaghy prepares to lead Kerry out into the 13th All-Ireland Final meeting between Kerry and Dublin, the Austin Stacks clubman is fully aware that the players will be taking part in something special on the day.

“The media will always romanticise about when the two counties meet and it can be a case of the townies vs. the culchies but 2015 is a new chapter and a new story for everyone involved. It's nearly always a full house or a big attendance whenever the two teams play so that makes it a bit more special,” he said of the rivalry between the two counties.

Donaghy feels that any Championship campaign is about taking one step at a time but there is an expectation on all the Kerry players to perform when the occasion demands it. He references Fionn Fitzgerald's equalising point at the end of the drawn Munster Final as a case in point.

“It's one thing about Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) in that he expects and encourages every player to perform when they take to the pitch. Fionn did just that in the way he hit the equaliser and when you think we were maybe lucky to get a free in the build-up, it really was a lifeline for us at that time. Cork did impress me over the course of the two games with what they brought and it certainly added value to the victory,” he said of Kerry's Munster Final experience.

In receiving the cup in near pitch dark conditions on the miserable Saturday evening of the replay, Donaghy had avoided a bad omen striking the county again as the last time Kerry had lost to Cork in Killarney back in 1995, there had been a Tralee captain of the side as well in Morgan Nix of Kerins O'Rahillys. Staying the direct route was the big plus to the provincial success for the present captain and he felt the sheer footballing ability of the side shone through in the second-half against Kildare.

“I thought Kildare actually started that match okay but when we got the first goal everything just seemed to fall into place from there in terms of both the conditions and the Croke Park pitch playing to our advantage,” Donaghy believes.

The Kerry captain will always have a more intimate connection with Tyrone being the home county of his late father but he feels the previous baggage between the two counties held little fear to the present group of Kerry players. “You have to remember that we are in a situation now where the vast majority of the panel have never lost to Tyrone. There are the six or seven of us who were there in the noughties that lost out those days but you are prepared now for everyone bringing up those three games in Croke Park whenever the sides meet.

“Tyrone brought a great intensity this year but I felt it was a victory for our panel overall as everyone on the pitch played some part when it mattered. Whatever about the win in Killarney in the Qualifiers (2012), I think that one was really for the fans as we owed it to them for the three times they came up to Croke Park and saw us defeated by them,” he said of the semi-final success.

In assessing the challenge that Dublin will bring to the decider, Donaghy acknowledges that Dublin will have great momentum gathered from their two encounters with Mayo but feels that the match on Sunday will take on a life of its own.

“Finals are nearly always different to what you have experienced along the way and there usually is never more than a bounce of the ball in it. With the amount of near professional preparation that going into sides now it really is coming down to the small things on the day,” he said of the matters that decide All-Ireland winners nowadays.

The Kerry captain has experience of course of being involved in a side that successfully retained an All-Ireland title, being a member of the 2007 side that retained Sam Maguire under Pat O'Shea after Donaghy had made his breakthrough on the inter-county scene in 2006 under Jack O'Connor.

“I don't have a lot of vivid memories of 2007 only for the fact we had two massive battles with Monaghan and Dublin in the Quarter-Final and Semi-Final that year that definitely stood to us for the Final. It's not something that we will dwelling much on though ahead of the Final,” he said of the time Kerry became the only side in the last 25 years to successfully retain the All-Ireland Senior Football title.

It's been a pretty full on year for Donaghy on a lot of fronts, stretching back to mid-February when he was part of the Austin Stacks side that lost very narrowly to Derry's Slaughtneil in the All-Ireland Senior Club semi-final down in Portlaoise. Few would have begrudged him wanting to take some time off after that loss.

However because of being granted the Kerry captaincy due to Austin Stacks getting the right to nominate him with their Kerry Senior Championship success of last year, Donaghy felt a special obligation to head straight back into Kerry's Allianz League campaign. It was just one of the expectations that felt came with the role.

“It's a huge honour for me to be Kerry Captain and perform all the functions and duties that go with it. We all have a job to do now though ahead of the Final and we will prepare collectively as a team regardless of what is expected of us as individuals.”

Should Donaghy scale the steps of the Hogan Stand at the final whistle to bring Sam back to Kerry for another year, he would be the first Austin Stacks and indeed first Tralee man since Ger Power in 1980 to captain Kerry to an All-Ireland title. A nice personal motivation as much as a collective one.

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