There are infrequent showers forecast for Dublin city on Sunday. Knowing Kieran Donaghy’s luck, they’ll be blowing down Jones’ Road and across the Croke Park pitch sometime between 3.30 and 5pm.
It’s been that sort of season for the Kerry captain. When he’s been playing with Kerry, the precision one associates with this Éamonn Fitzmaurice squad has been lacking in terms of quality ball into their full-forward.
And on other days, well it’s just teemed out of the heavens, making the role of the target man essentially redundant.
If there is one defensive responsibility Eoin Cadogan loves, it’s the mano-a-mano combat that will always favour the one who doesn’t rely on clean possession. On July 5th, such a scenario unfolded in sunny, dry Killarney as the Cork full-back kept Donaghy’s primary possession to the minimum. Two weekends later, a dreadful Killarney Saturday made clean fielding and secure handling a lottery. Donaghy suffered.
He couldn’t catch a break, but the manner in which his season turned spectacularly a year earlier kept him upbeat. Plus, he was captain. He had to think bigger picture.
Then the Thursday night before the Kildare massacre he tweaked a groin, giving Colm Cooper his route back into 70 minutes of Croke Park action. It’s difficult to believe Donaghy wouldn’t have made hay against the Lilies. But in the semi-final against Tyrone and Justin McMahon, Donaghy had to contend with poor service in appalling weather conditions. He made it to half-time, scoring the final point of the half, but the decision to replace him with Paul Geaney had already been made.
Can you drop your captain and talisman for the final? When he loves Croke Park and always prospers on Rory O’Carroll? It’s a big call made a lot easier by the form of Paul Geaney. In an arsenal of scorers that features Colm Cooper and James O’Donoghue, Geaney’s outscoring them all in training. He grabbed 1-5 in the trial game behind closed doors recently. His back is in good working order and his confidence his sky high. He too is a ball winner, and he can tap dance off either foot. What’s not to like?
Fitzmaurice lured Eamonn McGee out the field in last year’s final in pursuit of a roaming Donaghy, and the Austin Stacks man can fulfil that role for a short period of time. But not to the point where it would jeopardise the selection of Stephen O’Brien or Johnny Buckley. The difficulty with Donaghy - a Donaghy perhaps struggling with confidence - is that you can stick a stamp and address on the gameplan that revolves around him.
And too often a team - even one as tutored and intelligent as Kerry - over-compensates on efforts to deliver the arrowed, angled delivery to the back post for him. Gooch and James O just watch it fly by.
The context in which Donaghy may be introduced is key too. If he’s sprung on a salvage mission, Dublin know what’s coming. They’ve planned for same.
It’s an unfortunate confluence of circumstances for the captain. And even that is something management must be aware of - another leader in the stand, and not on the pitch. Then again, he wouldn’t be the first Kerry captain to be left kicking his heels on All-Ireland final day. Seven into six doesn’t go, and in terms of Kerry’s gameplan, Donaghy’s the odd man out at this juncture.
But if Star’s feeling bad he can look left and right alongside him - Paul Galvin, Tommy Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan, Barry John Keane and Bryan Sheehan for starters, feeling similarly aggrieved.
Star has the pedigree of producing the goods on the biggest stage
So Eamonn Fitzmaurice has made the call: Paul Geaney is in, and Kieran Donaghy, the Kerry captain, three time All Star, and four-time All-Ireland winner will be sitting in the dugout.
A no-brainer of a call? Perhaps, but there is also an argument why Donaghy should have started. After all this is a man who has delivered regularly and consistently for Kerry in the past in the white heat of championship battle.
The Austin Stacks giant could do so too, from the start, and make a serious contribution if given the opportunity by Fitzmaurice and his management team.
Kieran would have been very badly stung by his withdrawal at half-time against Tyrone in the semi-final, and if given the nod for a starting slot at 3.30pm, he would have been superbly motivated and well riled up, to prove he still has what it takes to lead the Kerry attack from the edge of the square.
Having that kind of a psyched up 6’5” — 15 stone plus bull of a man coming in to prove a point is not what Rory O’Carroll or Jim Gavin would have wished to see from the first whistle.
To be fair to Donaghy, most of the ball played into him against Tyrone last time out was poor quality. In order to thrive Kieran needs intelligent well placed ball that plays to his strengths: aerial power, good hands, an ability to bring other forwards into play, and an eye for goal is his game.
Fitzmaurice had only to look back to last year’s All-Ireland final and Star’s 1-2 against Donegal - or his goal against Mayo in the replayed semi-final - to prove that point. Would Kerry have won last year’s All-Ireland title without his contribution?
Donaghy also played a fine game in 2011 in the All-Ireland final defeat and scored a superb late point which showed sublime leadership and conviction to rally Kerry, and level the game, before a unforgiving referring decision gave Cluxton the chance to come up and nail Dublin’s sensational winner.
When leadership was needed in 2014, Donaghy stood tall and provided it once again.
From a psychological point of view, dropping him for the All-Ireland final is a decision fraught with risk and one that was not taken lightly. Dublin like to finish their games as they did against Kerry in 2011 and 2013 and against Mayo in their replayed semi-final at a frantic and unforgiving pace and it is debatable if Donaghy will be able to have major impact if he comes in with Kerry a few points behind.
Better to let him to start and give of his best for 40 or 45 minutes and then bring in fresh legs when needed and most beneficial to the cause.
Would management have been better to start their captain, place their trust in him on the field of play and also let him help create, promote and cultivate the positive and expectant mood in the entire squad that they want? Fitzmaurice is a believer in horses for courses and in Donaghy he has a guy with proven pedigree and a track record of producing the goods on the biggest stage over the past ten years.
Today is that stage once again, and his captain merited the opportunity to start the game and make the telling contribution that he is well capable of making.
A quality captain such as Kieran adds more value to an All-Ireland day, than just what they contribute inside the whitewash. He can add value in many other intangible, but crucial areas.
Donaghy has been there, done that, and shown he is a serious player who can produce the business when the pressure is at it’s most intense.
Fitzmaurice and his selectors have done their job and have made their decisions. And dropping their captain for the start was a big one. We will only know at 5.05pm if it was the right one.