Late last year it was announced that Kieran Donaghy, with the help of Aidan O’Mahony, would be taking over the reins at IT Tralee.
It was Donaghy’s first steps into management with the 2006 Footballer of the Year taking charge of his local college team for this season’s Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup campaign.
Such is the nature of the third level competition, one loss and you are gone and that proved to be the case for Donaghy’s charges as they fell to a first-round defeat to Carlow IT. It was a defeat that, in hindsight, looks more understandable given Carlow’s amazing run to the final of this season’s tournament.
The week of the game proved a difficult one for the new manager as he lost four starting players through injury and illness, a run of bad luck that coincided with a National Cup semi-final defeat for the Tralee Warriors.
So far, Donaghy has loved the challenge and is enjoying dipping his toe into management.
“I loved it,” exclaims Donaghy.
“It’s hard with the college team because you don’t have all the guys, all the time. You’re chopping and changing. Some nights you’ve nine at training because there’s county training going on.
“So it is very difficult that way. But I enjoyed it, and I wanted to dip my toe into it as a manager and learn and get some experience. They were a great team to work with. We were a bit unlucky. We named the team on the Wednesday night, and I lost four backs from the Wednesday night to the Sunday.”
“There was a lot going on and I had to call a meeting with the management team to come back in Sunday morning two hours before the game to try and figure out how we were going to move pieces around but they were the challenges, there was also great learning in that you had to adapt.
“We were playing Carlow, we were five points up with eight or nine minutes to go. They got a brilliant goal that gave them massive energy. Pat Critchley done a great job with them. They were very well organised and they came like a train at us the last five minutes in Tralee and got a massive win on the road.
“So it was a tough one to take because you lose one game and you’re out. We played really well the week after against Athlone up in Limerick and yeah it was disappointing but it was a great experience getting in with the lads.”
While Donaghy enjoyed gaining managerial experience and building relationships with a new team, one player he already had a strong relationship with was star player, David Clifford.
“He was brilliant, he made himself available every single chance he had,” says Donaghy.
The four-time All-Ireland winner admits there isn’t much to coaching Clifford, however, the Fossa man, himself, is well aware that he is not yet the finished article, despite what most of the country thinks.
“No! Not really, it was more around the team more so than coaching individuals I was focused on but he’s got stuff to learn absolutely he’s got stuff to work on, he knows that. He will be continuously working on himself to get better. You know, over his head is an area where I know he will want to keep getting better at.
“He’s so good out in front and he’s so good at taking fellas on but he’s a big man. With the mark now, if you go over the top, it’s a goal chance or an automatic free so you know, every player has stuff to work on and very intelligent players know what they have to work on. He certainly doesn’t see himself as some kind of finished article where it’s all done up and made for him here.
“He’s kind of very aware of how and what areas he wants to improve on and how he wants to get better to lead Kerry for the next decade or so.”
Donaghy continued citing the commitment Clifford showed to the Tralee IT cause despite everything else he had going on over the last six months.
“But in terms of being there on cold, wet Wednesday nights at training when really a player that was after putting in the year he had, winning an All-Star and contending an All-Ireland final and a replay, winning a county championship with his club.
“It’s an awful long year and I told him I wanted him to take two or three weeks off and I didn’t want to see him. He took ten days and then he was back in with us and yeah he was there every night and when Kerry started up, he was doing one night with Kerry and one night with us.
“He was just trying to kind of do everything really, out of all the inter-county lads I had, he was unbelievable really in his application. You know what? Myself, [Aidan] O’Mahony and the lads on the management team were sitting back kind of going, ‘That’s why this kid is what he is.’ Because it’s so easy for a fella like that to say, ‘Ah, look I’m sore, I’m not able to do this or I can’t travel’. Because he had 101 things going on.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough of him as in to work with him. I don’t even think it had anything to do with the fact that we’d kind of… when I played with him in ’18 you know… that he’d treat it any different because we had that relationship as a player and a teammate. I just think that’s the kind of guy he is and what separates him from most really.”
Pressed on Clifford’s attitude inside the changing room, Donaghy claims the young star doesn’t say much but when he does speak, everybody listens.
Donaghy likens Clifford with former Kerry prodigy Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper in that both men are years ahead of their time.
“No, he’s not banging and shouting but when he does speak it’s like pin-drop stuff and everybody zones in to what he’s saying. He has that influence on groups. And he had that when he came in with us with Kerry as an 18-year-old.
“When he started speaking, and as I said, he wouldn’t be speaking too much but when he started or when he’d a point to make there’d be silence because like Colm Cooper when he was young, they’re just years ahead of themselves you know? David is like a 30-year-old really, he’s a 30-year-old in his headspace anyway.
“He’s that smart, he sees that far ahead of everybody else. He sees two or three passes ahead so he’s speaking from a place of kind of… [the future really?]… Yeah, they’re ahead of everyone, I don’t know it’s hard to explain.”