GAA Football

Kieran Donaghy is 'right up there' says Donegal defender Neil McGee after Kerry legend announces his retirement

Kieran Donaghy scored 1-2 in the 2014 All-Ireland final as Kerry beat Donegal
Andy Watters

NEIL McGee and his brother Eamonn had many a tangle with Kerry’s colossus Kieran Donaghy.

Standing 6’5” Donaghy was blessed with deft ball-handling skills honed on the basketball court, speed over the ground and good feet, so he was always a handful.

Mark him from behind and Kerry would play the ball in front of him to run onto and bring others into the game. Stand in front of him and the ball would come in high for ‘Star’ to sore upwards and pluck it from the sky.

Donaghy announced his retirement yesterday after 14 years in the Kerry jersey that saw him win four All-Irelands (including the 2014 final against Donegal) and four Allstars too. Neil McGee first tangled with the Tralee man at trials for the Ireland International Rules team back in 2011 and he had regular run-ins with him since.

“It was always difficult with him,” admitted the Gweedore clubman.

“I always tried to wrestle with him but he was very good at using his body. He was a difficult one to mark, particularly with the quality of players he had putting ball into him. They could spot where the full-back was and they always played the right pass into him.

“He was quality, he had great hands on him and he was a very big character, a great character. I toured Australia with him and you could see why all the Kerry boys thought so highly of him because he’s a good fella to have around, a very big character in the dressingroom.

“He was good craic, he was always on the go and he was always good for team morale but once he got onto the pitch he was a different character.”

Having a team-mate like Michael Murphy at training was good preparation for the Donegal defenders to prepare for a run-in with Kerry. Murphy has played around midfield regularly but Donaghy’s most memorable moments came when he moved into full-forward.

“We would have been taking lumps out of each other but he loved that and I like it too and you would always shake hands and chat to him after the game,” said McGee, a Ulster Championship winner with Donegal this year.

“There was never any dirt with him – you’d get stuck into him and he’d get stuck into you. That’s the way I like to play. He was a good honest player, a hard player and very effective.

“He is right up there. In terms of the effect he had on Kerry this past 14 years he is right up there with the O Se brothers and (Paul) Galvin and (Colm) Cooper and these boys.

“He was that big a character, he really got that Kerry team going in ’06 and ’07 and they pushed on then. He gave them a lease of life and they were going for a three in-a-row against Tyrone in 2008. That was mainly down to him because they were struggling in the Qualifiers and he came on the scene and he was unstoppable for a couple of years.”

Colm Cavanagh’s cameo at full-forward for Tyrone showed how effective a big man on the edge of the square can be but, with Donaghy gone, targetmen full-forwards have become a rare breed in the modern game.

“He was comfortable going out the field or you could play him at wing-forward for kick-outs – he was very versatile,” said McGee.

“He’ll be a big loss to Kerry but there’s always room for a big full-forward in the game. If they’re a good footballer and they’ve got the height too, they’re always going to be effective.”

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