Kieran Donaghy seems to have been around forever, but he only came onto the Kerry senior team two years ago. Naturally enough, that milestone is still fresh in his mind.
“I remember the first time I put on a county jersey in a league game, and I was putting pressure on myself, not to mind anybody else,” says Donaghy.
“Now it’s turned a small bit. I’ve learned how to deal with the pressure I put on myself, but you’ve pressure coming from different angles. That’s the way the game is going — it’s more professional every day, you have lads on newspapers, TV, radio, but that’s the way things are going. You just have to move with the times.”
Moving means changing. Donaghy has absorbed a few lessons when it comes to coping with pressure.
“I’m good enough that way, I can knuckle down for games but I can get away on my own. I’d go out to a chipping green in Tralee Golf Club in Barrow, and just spend a while there chipping and putting away. That’s a release I’d get — I find it good I can relax that way.
“The big thing is that you don’t want to tire yourself out before the game — to get stuck thinking how big it is, how important it is, how you need to perform and so on. After that you think about what you need to do to beat your man, to help the team — once you’ve that sorted in your head you can put it to bed and get ready for the next day.”
By his reckoning Donaghy spent 16 months trying to get onto the Kerry team, and when he finally reached the dressing-room he wasn’t about to leave in a hurry. Once he got a jersey in 2006 he played in every game that year apart from the Munster final replay in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, and that relatively recent promotion means he recognises the challenges facing new recruits.
“In fairness to the likes of Tommy Walsh, David Moran, Kieran O’Leary, Paul O’Connor — they’ve all done extremely well.
“The time has probably come for some of them to nail down a spot — they’ve been putting the lads under enough pressure in training sessions.
“That’s the great thing about Kerry football, we seem to find some way to bring lads through.”
One of those new lads has been attracting plenty of headlines recently: Tommy Walsh, another Tralee man, has impressed for both the Kerry U21s and seniors. Donaghy has been on hand to pass on some pointers.
“I was delighted for Tommy. He’s a good friend of mine and probably my brother Conor’s best friend — he’d always be up in my house, so we’d always talk.
“I called down to him on Friday night before the Laois league game and just said to him — ‘you’re big enough and strong enough and smart enough to be able to do this, you’re well able’.
“Then he went out and gave a man-of-the-match performance.”
Donaghy was only passing on what he’d been taught himself; when he landed into a dressing-room full of established stars he benefited from their experience.
“I had a lot of fellas to help me when I started — Darragh Ó Sé, Seamus Moynihan, Tommy Griffin — who’d be my roommate for the last couple of years. They’d all talk to you, Paul Galvin the same, Eamonn Fitzmaurice pulled me aside a few times to give me advice as well.That was something they didn’t need to do, they could have just concentrated on their own games, but I appreciated it. That’s the way we try to do it and I’ve tried to do it myself.”
What’s the one lesson that newcomers need to absorb quickly, then? What’s the biggest shock when a promising youngster gets the call-up to the big show?
“Definitely the pace. In your first championship game you really notice that, the pace is so fast. It’s a step up again from the league, you’d be thinking ‘Jeez, the championship is a different level again’, even though you’d usually need a few league games to get used to the pace at that level.
“Even your first league game, you’re coming from the club, or maybe U21, and then the pace of it... it’s funny, you’d notice that a lot of lads playing their first league game have to come off before the end just because they run out of energy. They’re haring around everywhere because they’re so enthusiastic, but eventually they just run out of energy.”
The big man is glad to have put away the last few weeks, particularly the imbroglio in Mayo, saying: “I don’t know if I was vindicated, I wouldn’t say that; I shouldn’t have done what I did in the first place, but it’s been resolved, everything’s been said on that, and now it’s time to move on.”
He takes encouragement from the fact that players who’ve been missing, like Colm Cooper, are drifting back to the panel as the league warms up.
“Training will be great this summer, there’ll be fierce fighting for places, and if someone gets injured someone else can come in and fill a place.
“That’s what the league does — it gives younger players the confidence to say ‘yeah, I can play for Kerry’. I found that when I came on.”
Found it and never lost it.
* Tomorrow: Allianz NFL Division One: Galway v Kerry, Pearse Stadium, 3.30pm.