On a night when most young players up for consideration would be wrought with nerves, the then 23-year-old’s cheeky gesture to the live TV camera as he walked up the aisle to collect his award said everything about his general demeanour.
“He’s a rogue, alright,” chuckles John Kennedy, his Kerry manager at minor and U21 level. “He’s a likeable guy but there’s that bit of divilment in him.”
O’Donoghue’s Legion club-mate Weeshie Fogarty remembers interviewing him after scoring two goals in front of Hill 16 in last September’s All-Ireland semi-final.
“I asked him what was going through his head as he put the ball on the spot to take the penalty against Cluxton. Was he thinking of all those Dubs in front of him? ‘Yerra,’ he said, ‘I never even saw them. I knew where I was going to kick it.’ Nothing phases him. He’s very laid back.”
And yet good enough to be handed penalty-taking duties over Colm Cooper, which for a player in his first full senior season was quite the accomplishment. In the captain’s absence, eyes will turn in O’Donoghue’s direction to saddle the burden. As he showed in last year’s Munster final, the onus of leading a team rests comfortably on his shoulders.
Indeed, last Sunday’s stage was a lot smaller but how he took his third goal was reminiscent of Peter Canavan’s placed shot in the 2005 All-Ireland final.
Few are making comparisons between the Killarney pair but shouldn’t they at least on paper? In eight Championship starts, O’Donoghue’s scored 4-17; in 11 league starts his tally is 4-11. Cooper’s total in his first eight SFC games in the same corner forward position was 3-13. In his first 11 league games as a starter, he posted 3-10.
Son of Diarmuid O’Donoghue, one-time National League top scorer, he’s hardly licked it off a stone. His father was captain of Kerry in 1984 before breaking his hand before the Munster final, his last season with the county. O’Donoghue’s grandfather Jameso, who passed away in 2008, assisted the great Kerry manager Dr Eamonn O’Sullivan training the county side.
His talent was obvious in Legion from an early age, routinely a top scorer for the club through the under-age grades.
“His big thing was and still is what he can do from a standing position,” says Fogarty. “One minute he’s there and then he’s gone like a shot.”
Kennedy lined O’Donoghue out in both forward lines at minor and U21 level and still rues how a dislocated shoulder picked up in training ruled the player out of the 2010 Munster U21 final defeat to Tipperary.
“All he’s been doing is carrying on from what he’s done since minor,” reckons Kennedy. “He’s always had that ability to run at defences, a great knack of going by fellas as well as creating options around him, but you’ll also find he’s very difficult to dispossess. He was one of those special players who always did the simple things right. If he had a good game he didn’t get carried away and if things didn’t go his way he wouldn’t get too despondent.
“He trained as he played. Some players would just go through the motions in training and keeping themselves for matches but he gave it everything whether sprints or drills. He’s a voracious appetite for working back. His instincts would tell him to follow back and turn over ball, something a lot of forwards don’t do. That’s certainly not a weakness of his.”
Fogarty reliably informs O’Donoghue last Sunday he became the first Kerryman to score three goals in a league game in Fitzgerald Stadium — the second Legion man to complete a hat-trick for the county after Timmy O’Leary did in 1937. O’Donoghue’s reaction to his feat last Sunday was typically droll. When team-mate Killian Young in Twitter posted a photograph of him smiling and pointing to the sky after scoring his third goal, he replied: “I was looking and laughing at the typical high ball coming in from (Bryan) Sheahan (sic)!!”
On YouTube, there’s an interview with him after helping guide the club’s U21s to a county title in 2011. Bleeped-out expletives pepper his language but it’s the ease of his nature that stands out. At a time when so many heads have been lost over the loss of Cooper, O’Donoghue keeping his could be their best asset.