Kieran Donaghy: Each ball I caught, you could feel the vibrations in the crowd

Kerry star Kieran Donaghy gives a deep insight into his successful career in the new series of Laochra Gael, which begins next week.

REELING IN THE YEARS: Laochra Gael returns to TG4 this spring for an 18th series. The series features six Laochra with genuine star quality and reveals deeper, fresh and sometimes unexpected insights into the lives of these icons. This season features, Kieran Donaghy, Diarmuid Lyng, Alan Brogan, Iggy Clarke, David Brady, and Brendan McAnespie. At the launch at Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin are, from left, Alan Brogan, Dublin; David Brady, Mayo, and Kieran Donaghy, Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran
REELING IN THE YEARS: Laochra Gael returns to TG4 this spring for an 18th series. The series features six Laochra with genuine star quality and reveals deeper, fresh and sometimes unexpected insights into the lives of these icons. This season features, Kieran Donaghy, Diarmuid Lyng, Alan Brogan, Iggy Clarke, David Brady, and Brendan McAnespie. At the launch at Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin are, from left, Alan Brogan, Dublin; David Brady, Mayo, and Kieran Donaghy, Kerry. Picture: Brendan Moran

Donaghy gives the background to his early days with Kerry, outining his disappointment not to make the county senior panel for the 2004 All-Ireland final — and his motivation to do well in the TG4 ‘Underdogs’ side which eventually faced Kerry after that All-Ireland final: “I went in on the Tuesday night before the final and the guy with the suits didn’t have my name on the list, so I knew the game was up — ‘is that my chance gone, am I ever going to make the breakthrough?’”

“(The Underdogs game v Kerry) for me, it was my tilt at the management to say ‘I’m ready’.”

Donaghy started with Kerry in 2005 and became a central part of the senior side in 2006, when manager Jack O’Connor switched him to full-forward for a qualifier game against Longford.

“We had lots of unbelievably talented forwards,” recalls Donaghy, “But Jack had this thing in his head that the ball wasn’t sticking in there well enough.

“The call was made, ‘yeah, we’re going with you and we’re going direct, putting in the ball’. I know the footballers that Kerry have and I’m not the normal Kerry forward, in my head, so I was very conscious of a few balls coming in, getting beaten, and people in the crowd saying ‘take that fella off, that donkey off’.

“I was straight with Jack, saying ‘I’ll go in there but if it’s not working out don’t be whipping me off’.

“It went well, it was just one of those days that I caught every ball that came in.

“Each ball that I caught, you could feel the vibrations in the crowd.”

Later that season he really cemented his reputation as a target man with a vital goal against Armagh: “People’s expectations were gone through the roof, it was like ‘everything is sorted out in Kerry, Donaghy is inside, it’s all grand, we have a new way of playing.

“It was tough (v Armagh), that first 20 minutes, it wasn’t going too well, you’d jog into full-forward and have a look over at the sideline — ‘are they going to bring in one of those classy forwards to do a job?’

“Declan O’Sullivan was on the bench — I was thinking there’s no way they can leave Declan O’Sullivan on the bench, this experiment is over.

“The second half started but Jack gave me a bit of confidence at half-time ‘you’re grand, you’re doing fine, we know you’ll get the better of this’.”

Donaghy responded and he was on his way.

In the series he speaks frankly about his childhood and the impact of his father’s problems:

“It was alcohol, it was gambling — you’d know it by him, by his demeanour, when he was down that road, when he had drink on board. The spark was gone from him.

“I wouldn’t have dealt with it too well . . . I struggled in school, the rage that was inside me spilt out onto any fella who was at me.

“And that was so unlike me, I was such a relaxed, kind-natured kid.

“But for the first time I was getting in trouble like that in school.”

Donaghy found respite in basketball at the time: “That was probably my biggest refuge of all, I could get lost in a world of trying to be Michael Jordan out the back of the house, gloves on my hands shooting baskets for three, four hours, not wanting to go back inside the house and deal with the disappointment of my Dad not being there.”

- The new Laochra Gael season will air on TG4 at 9:30pm on Thursdays from March 5, with a repeat on Friday nights. It is produced by Nemeton TV, the independent production company from Ring in the Waterford Gaeltacht

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