Last Sunday saw what could be described as the third coming of Kieran Donaghy. He played an important role in Kerry building up a half-time lead that would not relinquish in the second half.
Donaghy’s intercounty career is now over a decade old. He has been a prominent figure who has built up a love-hate relationship with many in GAA circles but last Sunday felt like a throwback to the man who tormented defences many years ago.
The first ‘renaissance’ of Donaghy occurred in his first full season, back in 2006. Having partnered Daragh Ó’Sé at midfield for most of the early part of the season. High fielding and a strong physical presence looked set to form a Kingdom midfield partnership that would dominate for years to come.
But the championship came and Donaghy’s form dipped. It was asked whether he had what he took to be a Kerry player, then a positional change saw Star change the game.
A move to full-forward saw Donaghy repeat what we saw last Sunday on endless occassions. High fielding was accompanied to quick hands, great vision and finesse that saw him become a taker and creator of great goals.
Teams copied and pasted the Kerry template of putting the biggest player or the best fielder into full-forward and Donaghy had brought a dimension that the game that many had not seen since the days of Bomber Liston.
Success followed for Kerry and Donaghy with number 14 on his back where he remained one of the leading footballers in Ireland for a number of years.
The second Renaissance of Kieran Donaghy could be seen in 2014. Miles on the clock and changes in playing styles had seen the role of the big full-forward diminish. Surplus bodies in defences were the norm as forwards were crowded and this together with injury issues saw him in and out of the Kerry side.
Trailing by a goal in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo, Eamon Fitzmaurice launched Donaghy from the bench. It was the last throw of the dice. Then in the dine minutes, a long ball was launched and like a photo or video from eight years previous, Donaghy fetched and used his vision and quick hands to feed James O’Donoghue.
O’Donoghue goaled, Kerry drew and lived to fight another day. The replay saw a curve ball thrown at Mayo, Donaghy was in from the start and chaos ensued at the edge of the Mayo square. The second coming of Donaghy was in full flow as Kerry qualified for an All-Ireland final against all odds.
The second coming was then complete as a Paddy Durcan howler provided Donaghy the chance to write a major chapter in his now award winning book. Kerry won another All-Ireland, by a goal, a Kieran Donaghy goal and then more headlines were grabbed by the infamous, “Well Joe Brolly, what do you think of that?”
The second coming of Donaghy had everything. He then added a county championship and a Munster title with his club Austin Stacks. This meant Donaghy was in line to captain Kerry for the 2015 season. 2014 had been so emphatic, there was a chance that things could get even better for Donaghy the following season.
2015 did not go to plan on the field of play. Form was up and down and Donaghy found himself failing to make the team for the All-Ireland final. 2016 followed a similar path, and it was heavily questioned if it was time for Star to walk away.
Colm Cooper retired, Kerry had just completed three All-Ireland minor titles in a row. It may have been time for the older brigade to step aside and let the youth develop.
Donaghy played basketball over the winter, leading to no on-field involvement during Kerry’s national league campaign. Kerry won the league without Donaghy, but he rejoined the Kerry panel in time to make an impact for the championship campaign.
Some eyebrows were raised when he was named to start the Munster final against Cork. He did not set the world alight but was retained for last Sunday’s quarter-final against Galway. His first-half goal had shades of 2006 about it.
It was Donaghy at his peak. Speaking to Pundit Arena after Sunday’s win, Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice stated that Donaghy is playing as well as he has ever played in 2017;
“Kieran is on the go a long time he’s playing great football, he’s playing the football of his life to be honest and that perfomance from him didn’t surprise me the way he has been training”.
So are we now set for what could become another Renaissance in the career of Kieran Donaghy. So far, he is highlighting the benefits of a prolonged off season and showing how time can be used very well during players latter years.
Playing basketball kept Donaghy involved in competitive sport. His aerobic and anaerobic thresholds have been maintained. His hand-eye coordination has remained in tact and last Sunday showed that the skill element of Gaelic football has not disappeared.
Despite being 34 years of age, and having played over ten years of intercounty football, Donaghy’s presence feels like a fresh injection of youth into this Kerry side. He displays attributes that no other footballers possesses.
And if Kerry are to get their hands back on Sam Maguire, it may take Kieran Donaghy to finally expose the loss of Rory O’Carroll to Dublin.
The third Renaissance of Kieran Donaghy may be his biggest one yet and history suggests it may not even be his last.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we look back at Kerry’s win over Galway and we preview all the weekend’s action.