The life and times of Kerry star Kieran Donaghy
BC: Why did you call your autobiography: ‘What do you think of that?’ which refers to your angry post-match interview directed at RTE pundit Joe Brolly? Are not merely elevating Joe with that title?
KD: If I had added in ‘Joe Brolly’ [in the title], I would say you’re right on that. But the reason I chose that title: ‘What do you think of that?’ – I’m asking the reader: ‘What do you think of that?’
It’s more about the reader and me and what they think of the book. I’m saying: ‘Don’t tell me what you think of me without reading the book if you want to judge me and see what I’m like as a person.
When I’m on the pitch I’m a completely different character to what I’m like off the pitch.”
BC: A couple of Joe’s articles annoyed you that year in which Kerry ended up winning the All-Ireland…
KD: “Well, yeah, they did. Joe can be pretty harsh in his assessment sometimes. But, like, at the same time I’ve huge respect for him. He’s a great Gael, the stuff he’s done for people with the transplants campaign, and people have to respect him for that.
Of course, he annoys people with some of the stuff he says, but he’s getting paid by RTE. He’s not being paid to be an altar boy - he’s getting paid to be a pundit and sometimes pundits have to say some things people don’t like, especially if it’s about their county or their family member or their team.
But myself and Joe [sighs]… I used that as motivation and the name of the book, as much as it’s a play on the Joe Brolly thing – I wanted people to think: ‘What did you think of the book?’
BC: Your book is a very open and honest account. What’s the reaction been so far?
KD: It’s been very positive which is always nice. I’ve had a load of people texting me and tweeting me that they read the book in a day or two, which is unbelievable, because I put an awful lot of work into this book.
I put my heart and soul into it and to find out that people are actually enjoying it is great. If it was coming back the other way and people weren’t enjoying it, you’d be saying: ‘Jeez, I wasted a lot of time there.’
BC: You’re a big Chelsea fan. You tell the story in the book about attending the 2012 Champions League final in Munich between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, against Jack O’Connor’s wishes. And he drops you for the following Sunday’s Munster Championship match against Tipperary. How did that affect your relationship with Jack?
KD: It was a falling-out between a player and a manager. For the love of God, if a player and a manager aren’t going to fall out during seven years in charge, either the player isn’t doing a good job or the manager isn’t doing a good job.
When you’re challenging each other and you’re competitive like we are, the drive to win is going to cause fractions and arguments here and there. That’s all that happened.
It was tough to take when he was leaving the first time [in 2006] because I’d just gotten used to him as a manager. I just had the best year – Footballer of the Year and all that – so him going was tough.
I was delighted to see Jack coming back because I knew the guy was a top manager and would lead us to an All-Ireland. He was just what we needed.
Bar the one falling out we had, we’ve a very healthy relationship and he was great to me during his time in charge. Of course, we had a few ups and downs but anything worth fighting for, things like that are going to happen.
BC: If you had the time over again would you still have attended the Champions League final?
KD: I wouldn’t have done anything differently. First of all, I didn’t have to tell Jack I as going at all. We were training on Friday night and we were training on Monday.
The match was Saturday night. I was flying out Saturday morning and flying back Sunday morning and I was back in Tralee at about three o’clock.
I was telling Jack out of respect in case he found out and thought: ‘Jeez, he didn’t tell me he was going away.’
Would I have changed anything? The answer’s no. If I got it all to do again, I would do the same thing.
The experience I had at that Champions League final with a few friends was an unbelievable event.
We should never have won; it was like that all year, it was something else. It was great to be there for it.
If I would have missed that I would have been sitting on the couch watching it. It was something I wanted to do, I had tickets, my wife, Hilary booked my flight and off I went happy as Larry.
There was talk I was going to be dropped but I had a sneaky hope that Jack might kind of say: ‘Right, okay, we’ll start you.’
But give credit to Jack for being ballsy enough to stick with his plan and say no.
BC: You were late for a training session around the same time after your late father’s dog had got lost…
KD: Yeah, my dad’s dog had gone missing. We’d taken him down after the funeral and I was entrusted with keeping him, so I didn’t want to lose him after two months so I went into panic trying to find this dog.
And then to come back and rush to training I gave myself 40 minutes to get my car and get out to training.
When I came back my mother had my car blocked in and my phone had gone dead because I was looking for the dog… The whole thing led to Jack getting thick because I was late for training.
I put myself in his shoes and of course he was 100 per cent right to be thick; that’s what a manager should be.
He can’t be saying: ‘Oh that’s great Kieran, no worries – it’s okay to be late for training’.
Of course I understand his point of view.
BC: Have you got a fair crack from the media during your career?
KD: I think my relationship with the media has been brilliant all the way along. There were a few journalists that wanted to make headlines or they were incredibly short-sighted.
I used the times where a journalist would get into me; of course I would use it to my advantage. That’s how life moves.
You’ve got to use somebody writing you off and saying that you’re not up to it, and that spurs you on.
But [generally] I’ve been given a very fair crack by the media – even from Joe, in fairness.”
BC: Your father, Oliver [Tyrone native] died a few years back. He had his troubles with alcohol and gambling. Your mother and father split up when you were 11. Did you take greater care with those pages in the book?
KD: Oh Jeez, man, every chapter in this book I’ve strained over and gone back on edits. There have been chapters where I was going back and forth and making sure my voice was coming through, and working with Kieran Shannon [ghost-writer] did an unbelievable job on the book. He found my voice in it.
But, of course, that chapter [about my father], I did the best I could. I was honest and fair. Of course, it’s a moving chapter. It’s a relationship between a father and son. My old man was a very proud Tyrone man. And he was always a very proud Kerryman when I’d the green and gold on.
Other people have stories about their youth, and that was obviously a big part of my youth: my mum and dad splitting when I was 11 and having to deal with that.
BC: Was the split harder to deal with or your father’s death [aged 59]?
KD: At the time of the split it was traumatic because I loved him, he was my dad and all of a sudden he wasn’t around any more. Even after a year I kept saying to my mum: ‘Would you take him back, mum? What’s going on here?’
I was thinking: ‘Why can’t we be like a happy family?’ All my other friends’ parents were together. And I was like the odd man out.
I was telling my friends when they came to my house that my dad was in another house…
BC: Was the Kerry team of the ‘Noughties’ obsessed with trying to beat Tyrone?
KD: I think that Tyrone team would be in the top four teams over the last 30 or 40 years. Were we obsessed with Tyrone? No, we weren’t.
We came across them three times in the ‘Noughties’ and they beat us. Tyrone could lose to one of the lesser teams but when it came to us they certainly always performed.
In ’03, they came out of no-where – nobody seen it coming, bar the Tyrone people themselves.
In ’05 they were unbelievable, they were a serious team and we were always going to be up against it to beat them.
In ’08 I felt we were better. We were going for three All-Irelands in a row. We were ahead with 15 minutes to go but Tyrone made the big plays that day.
I remember Sean Cavanagh kicked two massive points and the McMahon brothers [Joe and Justin] did very well on us [Tommy Walsh and me]. And they deserved it, but the year after, we won it again.
So the three times they got us, they beat us. And give them credit for that, but it doesn’t make us any less of a team because every year they won it we were kind of there, we were in six straight finals I think, which is testament to our group.
But they were a great team and we loved pitting ourselves against them and obviously the last two times in the Championship we’ve got over them [2012 All-Ireland Qualifier and 2015 All-Ireland semi-final].
BC: What was going through your mind during the 2014 All-Ireland final when Donegal ‘keeper Paul Durcan presented you with that match-winning goal?
KD: I’ve heard it a few times in my career and from other sports people that everything slow down. The goal against Armagh and Francie Bellew [in 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final] it was the same. The two goals just happened to be into the Hill.
I’d studied Paul Durcan’s kick-outs for a week before the game. I looked at how he went short and how he went long and how he disguised them. And he was brilliant. He was an Allstar goalkeeper and he was outstanding for Donegal under Jim McGuinness.
It was small bit of a mistake from him but I’d like to take some of the credit for it rather than blame him. The fact that I was on it so quickly; I’d two steps taken and I guessed he was going to kick it to Leo McLoone who was to my left, so I knew it was going out there.
I think he maybe saw me shift going that way and he might have hesitated at the last second.
I can make 10 mistakes in a game and nobody says boo. Unfortunately for goalkeepers, it comes with the territory, they make a mistake and it’s highlighted.
I took a huge amount of satisfaction from that goal that my preparation had paid off. Everything just slowed down for me.
Funny, ‘Gooch’ was talking about my finishing the week before the final and he was telling me to just pass the ball into the net because I was a complete roof merchant.
I’d put the head down and try and take the net off its hinges and it could go anywhere. That’s the way I have always been. I’ve got some great goals by roofing them in but this was a bit more Colm Cooper-esque, a bit classier.
BC: ‘Gooch’ is a wise old owl…
KD: Oh yeah, he’s wisdom beyond his years. He’ll make a great manager in the game. He’s top notch. Every time he speaks it makes sense.
BC: Would you describe yourself as a ‘Sledger’?
KD: I was probably on the receiving end of it but I threw my answers back fairly quickly. At the end of the day I’m the forward. If the full-back is all nicey-nicey, I’m happy as Larry.
But if they start talking, belting or whatever I’d go straight into fighting fire-with-fire mode.
That’s the way I’ve always handled it. You stand up for yourself. Don’t wait for referees to sort it.
You look after yourself. I was used to it because I was talking trash with Americans [basketball players] for years. If I could handle them fellas, I could handle anything in the GAA.