Armagh coach Ciaran McKeever heaps praise on ‘proud Kerry man’ Kieran Donaghy ahead of All-Ireland semi

“‘Star’ is great to be around but that’s not all, he’s also an excellent coach, he’s a great head for the game”

Armagh's Kieran Donaghy. Picture: Seamus Loughran
Armagh's Kieran Donaghy. Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

ARMAGH coach Kieran Donaghy may be a “proud Kerry man” – but it won’t stop one of the Kingdom’s favourite sons from trying to topple his native county in Saturday’s mouthwatering All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

Affectionately known as ‘Star’, the Austin Stacks clubman won four All-Irelands with Kerry during an illustrious playing career before becoming involved in coaching.

Donaghy hooked up with Armagh in December 2020 and has been a hugely popular and respected member of Kieran McGeeney’s backroom team.

“That’s just the path the GAA takes you sometimes,” said Armagh assistant and former player Ciaran McKeever.

“When you’re involved at this level of elite sport, you’re going to come up against your own county at some point…

“The first thing is ‘Star’ is a proud Kerry man. You can’t take that away from him. He’s embedded in their history. He’s a competitor, he’s a winner. He knows and we know that there’s a job to be done on Saturday and we’ll be doing that to the best of our ability.”

Ciaran McKeever (right) has been helping his club Cullyhanna in the background this season
Ciaran McKeever (right) has been a trusted assistant of Kieran McGeeney's

While Donaghy’s intimate knowledge of Jack O’Connor’s squad will be invaluable to the Armagh management team, McKeever was keen to stress that the Orchard men needed to focus on themselves at the same time.

“‘Star’ brings so many things to the table,” McKeever added.

“He’s great to be around but that’s not all, he’s also an excellent coach, he’s a great head for the game.

“And obviously leading into this game at the weekend he knows the Kerry players inside out.

“Some of them were coming in at the tail end of his career. He was playing club football up until last year, so he’s come across these boys in club football. He knows a lot about them but at the same time we’ve to focus on in our own game, trying to get the balance right, trying to execute our own game which is important.”

The sides last clashed in a Division One tie in February 2023 down in Austin Stacks Park with Kerry edging their visitors 0-12 to 0-11.

Armagh suffered relegation to Division Two at the end of that campaign - but the squad of players have matured to such an extent that dropping down a division at this stage of their development wasn’t going to hinder their All-Ireland chances.

Despite losing back-to-back All-Ireland quarter-finals to Galway and Monaghan (2022 and 2023), they eased past Roscommon in this year’s last eight encounter - reaching their first semi-final since 2005 - while producing their “worst performance in Croke Park”, according to McGeeney.

“The mindset was to go and get a win in Croke Park and reach an All-Ireland semi-final, regardless of how we did it,” McKeever said.

Cullyhanna native McKeever retired from inter-county duty in 2017 and while he misses the cut and thrust of playing, coaching at the highest level is the next best thing.

“Yeah, of course miss it,” he said. “You’d miss hopping off a couple of boys, but you obviously no longer can do that.

“At the same time coaching does fill that void, it definitely does. There’s huge excitement for these matches from a coaches’ point of view and we’re just looking forward to Saturday now.”