THREE years after suffering a rather miserable International Series debut, Kieran Donaghy has become an integral part of Irish hopes of reclaiming the Cormac McAnallen Cup on Friday night.
Donaghy’s first test came in Pearse Stadium in Galway three years ago, when, by his own admission, he found it difficult to adapt to the compromise game. But, there were mitigating circumstances.
“I was a bit all over the place my first year. Kerry were after winning the All-Ireland and I was a bit scattered. It was just that I had so many things going on. I had people pulling off me left, right and centre. I just think I wasn’t ready mentally for the whole thing. I didn’t play well in Galway and as a result I got dropped for the game in Croke Park — which was probably a blessing in hindsight.’’
It was a different feeling going into last week’s game. He felt more confident, satisfied he understands the game much better, stemming from thorough preparations and the work undertaken each day the Irish team has been here.
The secret to Ireland winning back the Cormac McAnallen Trophy at the MCG on Friday night is for the forwards to run at their opponents more freely and to get into more favourable scoring positions, says Donaghy, who insisted the physicality of the Australian play didn’t bother him in Perth in the first test last weekend. “I crossed a share of physical full-backs in my time,’’ he joked.
“You know how strong the Australians are and how hard they hit. (Wicklow’s) Leighton Glynn showed a bit of composure (when scoring his goal). It’s all about composure — knowing your surroundings.
“When you get used to it, you do have time on the ball more often than you might think. Sometimes when the ball is bouncing, fellows tend to palm it away, but you can actually catch it and maybe take a fellow on. The Australians are good in the tackle when they are right behind or in front of you. But if you get it four or five yards ahead on of them and maybe turn, you can take them on with just a bit of footwork or a shimmy.’’
In the Perth test, Donaghy was marked by two different players when he operated in around the goal. “The fellow who was on me, (Michael) Firrito was a big strong man and the other guy, Drew Petrie was a bigger man. In the second half, after I caught a few balls, he was put in on me. It’s physical inside, but nothing different to what we play back home.’’
While Donaghy was happy with his own performance in the first test, he accepts Ireland they need to produce a more constant level of performance if they are to win the series. “It was a good performance by us in patches. What we are working on is trying to get the consistency better.
“For two quarters we were very poor and for two quarters we were very good. It will be about rounding it off to get four solid quarters, rather than the explosions we had in patches,’’ he added.
Yesterday afternoon, Ireland returned from a two-day trip to the coastal resort of Lorne and on arrival in Melbourne they went straight to the MCG for a training session.
“The guys have been brilliant. We are very close and we are training hard,’’ he added.
Donaghy favours the mark being introduced to Gaelic football, but only for kick-outs — based on the view that in the modern game, players are punished for catching kick-outs.
“You have teams that mightn’t even jump with a man. They just leave him catch it and the minute he hits the ground, three fellows come in to spoil and he drops the ball.
“People love to see the big catch. Darragh Ó Se has been a huge example of that over the last 15 years. There’s nothing better in Croke Park than seeing him jumping up and catching a ball. But, to see him get smothered and the ball knocked out of his hand is bit of a killer. The mark would bring a huge reward; it would bring in automatic possession.’’
More immediately, he holds out strong hopes for an entertaining game which, while it’s certain to be more physical, will be played in the right spirit and within the rules. “We met the Australians before and after the game. There is a mutual respect there.
“The ‘belt’ Finian (Hanley) took is legal in their game, but not legal in the game we play. Campbell Brown (the Australian player yellow-carded for the incident) went up to him afterwards and had dinner with him and apologised.
“That was good to see.’’
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