There was no delay. Darran O’Sullivan and Gooch were still razing Kildare on Jones Road as Kerry’s medical team got to work on the James O’Donoghue rehab strategy.
Physio Eddie Harnett and team doctor John Rice were at one. The quicker the diagnosis, the more immediate and accurate the prognosis and the recovery.
The view was simple: If their attacking sniper wasn’t ready for the semi-final on August 23, give him every opportunity to be ready for the final a month later if Kerry were involved.
While the players were showering and Niall ‘Botty’ O’Callaghan was crating up the equipment for the road home, O’Donoghue was already being scanned at the private Mater Hospital. Nonetheless, it was business as usual around the Kerry dressing room. Someone was detailed to bring O’Donoghue’s kitbag and clothes from the stadium to be reunited with him for food at Jury’s Croke Park Hotel.
Initially the information back from the Mater was scrambled, as it often is in these situations. Has his shoulder ‘popped out’? Had the doctor or physio popped it back in before he left Croke Park? Was it the same right shoulder he had previous problems with?
Eamonn Fitzmaurice was trying to play catch-up as he headed into the print media room. Fulfilling his TV and radio responsibilities meant he was out of the loop momentarily on O’Donoghue but he caught up pretty quickly.
It wasn’t long — before they’d eaten even — that confirmation filtered through to Jones’ Road that O’Donoghue had suffered a shoulder dislocation. Bad news of course, but no fracture. With the timeframe for recovery and rehab came the realisation that O’Donoghue is a massive doubt for the semi-final in three weeks. The train carriage home to Kerry last night was less a postmortem than a medical conference on whether they attempt to do what Mayo attempted with Cillian O’Connor between the semi and final of 2012. O’Connor played in the final, if that’s the right word — he was on the pitch anyway against Donegal — but his contribution from open play was negligible. The chances of Kerry doing likewise are similar.
There’s always something, mused Fitzmaurice. And then someone asked was there anything he wouldn’t be happy with about Kerry’s performance in yesterday’s 7-16 to 0-10 obliteration of Kildare at Croke Park.
He smiled at that one.
The O’Donoghue setback won’t cause any lost sleep in Tyrone or Monaghan but the pity for football followers who like their toast with jam on both sides is that we only had Colm Cooper and O’Donoghue reunited from the start of a championship game for 28 minutes yesterday. And the first 14 of those passed without Gooch touching the ball. His first involvement informed what we will miss again for a while, Cooper turning inside and dropping a deliciously weighted pass inside the Kildare cover. Luckily for the Lilies, O’Donoghue fumbled it wide.
The Legion man had to graft plenty to elude the outstanding Ollie Lyons, much like he had to in struggling to get the better of Keith Higgins in Limerick last September.
But he stubbornly persists. Overcoming frustration and adversity is a quality he’ll have to call on again.
He had three points and another for the taking when he tried to dance past Mark Donnellan in the 28th minute for a tap-in, the Kildare keeper doing outstandingly to deflect the ball away from the Kerry forward.
How big a moment his awkward fall becomes in the context of the summer remains moot for the time being, but the sense at this remove is that it’s a very big blow for Kerry’s hopes. Of course, so was the loss of Colm Cooper in 2014. O’Donoghue mightn’t yet have Cooper’s surgical precision, but he has an assassin’s eye for goal, and lightning pace over 20 metres. He is the footballer of the year for a reason.
On the basis of yesterday’s turkey shoot, Fitzmaurice’s management team aren’t short of alternative scorers, though none are as cold-eyed or lethal as O’Donoghue. Darran O’Sullivan is jet-heeled too and exploded into the second-half yesterday like a Hadron Collider — a point to prove to himself and many others. Ditto Barry John Keane, who needed the shot of confidence 1-3 will give him after being left out of the Munster final replay starting 15.
Between them, they harvested 3-4; add Cooper’s 2-3 and you have the makings of some lively August auditions at Fitzgerald Stadium.
O’Sullivan’s lines of running are difficult to track and will be of great value against either Ulster quarter-finalist where breaking the defensive structure will be paramount.
“Of course he’s been frustrated,” explained Fitzmaurice afterwards. “Darran has had injuries and he’s had to do a lot of rehab, he has to do a lot of prehab to keep his body right. But his body is right at the moment and again, he’s another fella who has trained really well for the last couple of weeks and he knew today coming up he was going to get a cut at it at some stage and to be fair to him, he did the business.”
As Fitzmaurice was tip-toeing around Kildare’s desolation, Dublin were already cutting an early swathe through Fermanagh in the second quarter-final. Eventually they would ease to a 2-22 to 2-14 win over Pete McGrath’s Erne men, but the irony is that Jim Gavin got more out of the day than Fitzmaurice. Not that the Kerry manager would entirely agree.
“We got game-time into all our subs,” he pointed out. “Tommy Walsh was another man who’s been frustrated and he got no action in either of the Munster finals and he had been going well in training. Unfortunately, you can only put on six subs and he was one of the ones to miss out both of those days. He came on (today) and got 10-plus minutes, caught a couple of kick-outs and played a bit of football in Croke Park. So at no stage did it cease being useful.”
Kerry looked like a side that had been reminded more than once last week that they tend not to show up for quarter-finals.
“I think we were very well tuned in,” Fitzmaurice added. “You could get from the vibe the minutes we met up yesterday that there was a good focus there.
“And I think the (Munster) final replay has been a big factor. In the past, we’ve been coming in cold. We’ve trained, there’s been county championship, there’s been distractions in the month of July, you don’t know your opposition until the week beforehand. That wasn’t as much of an issue this time around because we played Cork, then we had only a week and then into the week of the game again.
“That Munster final replay was hugely important to us in terms of taking the squad where we needed to go.”
And so there are six still standing, though some will endeavour to dispense with the formalities of the remaining quarters and semis and go straight to the Hollywood final between yesterday’s victors.
As if he hadn’t better things to be fretting over, Kildare manager Jason Ryan was asked, having played both, who was better, Kerry or Dublin?
“They both have their strengths, strong benches and devastating forwards. Kerry work really hard and execute their game-plan really well. They made very good use of the ball, they’re clinical when scoring chances came their way. I don’t know who’s better. (But) they were damn good today.”
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