It wasn’t a shock but still there was a twinge of sadness when the news broke yesterday morning.
Kieran Donaghy is a Superman figure to me, to so many of us. You felt he could go on forever. Deep down we knew he couldn’t, but it’s still a sobering day when one of your close friends decides his time is up.
I heard about him before I knew him. Back when we were 14 or 15, he was this giant from Tralee who was a brilliant basketball player.
Next thing he makes this giant leap to make the Kerry minor team. He stayed at my house, along with half the panel, after a Munster minor final in Killarney. And with some people, you just hit it off.
Not everyone knew what to make of him in those days. He was sub in Croke Park. Was he a midfielder or a full-forward? Some thought he’d make a great full-back, the size of him.
But nobody could change Donaghy. And eventually, he would change how the game was played.
After Kerry lost to Tyrone in 2005, things were low enough. How were we going to get back to the top? Nearly by default Kieran was put in at 14 in a qualifier in Killarney against Longford.
And he just set the world on fire, finishes Footballer of the Year and propels Kerry to winning an All-Ireland. Gives a lease of life to a bunch of players that weren’t showing much. Who were oozing with talent, but needed the spark.
He was sparky alright. He didn’t go unnoticed and he became a target. He laughed most of it off.
At Parnell Park one day, when the Dubs used play there in the league, we were both getting stick from behind the goal. Good craic. ‘Gooch, Gooch, your hair is on fire.’ He was roaring laughing at me.
A few minutes later, they were giving it ‘Duck-arse Donaghy’, so I had a little smile back at him.
What a player, though. He was jumping two feet over guys. He was able to kick a point. He could finish. But his biggest strength was his vision. Before he hit the ground, he knew where the pass was going. Maybe that came from his basketball background.
A nationwide hunt for Donaghys followed. Every 6 ft 5 lad was tried at the edge of the square. But a lot of teams found big strong guys who didn’t have the football or the vision or the touch.
He changed coaching. He was double-teamed and screened and sweepers swept in front of him. It probably helped my game to have so many looking where Donaghy was. I could go about my business.
The partnership was formidable for a while. Going out, just knowing he was at my side, I felt we were kind of unstoppable. From ‘06 to ‘08, we were a strong combination. Crazy to think a decade has passed.
In another 10 years’ time, when you ask the current Kerry players who they learned most from, I’d be surprised if most of them didn’t mention Kieran.
In terms of how he prepares, how he understands Kerry. Kerry means a great deal to him, it’s very close to his heart, as you can tell from his retirement poem and statement. He’s a real family guy. But Kerry was his other family.
He was the ultimate team-mate. I haven’t come across many better able to galvanise things. He is one of the most positive guys I’ve met. If you were even slightly off, he’d pick up on it, have a word in your ear. And he always saw light at the end of the tunnel. Where some of us, sometimes, couldn’t see any way out, he always had a positive spin on things.
Sometimes you develop that with experience, but he had it from an early age. A leader before his time. Maybe because he was doing it for Stacks for so many years. Or on the basketball court.
His CV is pretty strong whatever way you look at it. And he goes with really good memories. But it’s the silly little things I’ll remember as much as the passes he dished up.
Rooming together with Kerry. Those nights watching Match of the Day when Liverpool had won and Chelsea lost. Those are the things you miss.
There was no sport he wouldn’t talk about. We’ve gone to NBA games together in the States.
He takes too many fivers off me on the golf course. Long off the tee, he also has, unsurprisingly, a good touch for a big man.
Sometimes I look at guys retiring and think they are going to suffer, that they will really miss it. And of course he will miss it. But he will enjoy life outside. I don’t know if he has media ambitions, but he’d be very good at it.
His family will be glad to have more of him and I don’t think he’ll have any issue adjusting. But we’ll all have to adjust to life after Superman.
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