If last season didn’t tell you there was something unique about James O’Donoghue, his wink to the camera as he walked up to collect his All Star did.
Not since his fellow Kerryman Tom O’Sullivan wore gold shoes with his tux to the 2009 awards has such roguishness been seen on live TV.
After ‘09, O’Sullivan would walk into nightclubs and wave. When pressed as to why he offered such a salutation to strangers, he rhetorically asked: “How many All-Irelands do I have?”
O’Sullivan, we thought, was a one-off. Anyone who has the audacity to refer to Armagh’s 2002 title as the “one-in-a-row” must have big carraigs.
O’Donoghue has five less medals than O’Sullivan and isn’t so daring but he exudes a natural air of confidence.
Christened “10 to 2” by Kieran O’Leary because of his jaunty style of walking, he charms a group of journalists with consummate ease.
The quips are plentiful and all good-natured. He laughs as he calls himself a sports scientist having finished his degree in UL. “Yeah, free for the summer. Travelling to training can be tough on fellas,” he utters deadpan before delivering, “I live about a minute’s walk from the stadium!”
Discussing Jack O’Connor’s minors, he smiles that he hopes to see them do well and some day “come in and try and help me win an All-Ireland!”
He plays down his 10 points against Cork, stating they were forced to attack and leave gaps in the second half. But he acknowledges it was up there with one of his best in a Kerry jersey if only “because I haven’t played that many games!” In Dublin this day last week, it was unerring how comfortable he was around the media considering he’s doing relatively little of it.
You couldn’t imagine him being allowed to be so carefree under someone like Páidí Ó Sé but he plays that one beautifully: “Páidí might have been a showman as well, I think. I heard a few stories about him.”
But behind the smiles and laughs, there’s a winner.
It’s been a rewarding July for O’Donoghue. Beating Cork and knocking Dr Crokes out of the Kerry championship in the space of a week was sweet.
But did he expect to be so good against Cork when he hadn’t played a competitive game in 13 weeks as he nursed a damaged shoulder.
“I played the whole league and we did the pre-season with Kerry and I felt fit, very fit. I played the whole league, every minute of it I think.
“Then to get injured at the wrong time, I thought ‘Jees, I’m gonna lose all this’. But I found I didn’t really lose anything from the break. If anything, it probably did me a bit of good.”
O’Donoghue likes the burden of expectation now placed on him. When Colm Cooper was ruled out for the season and Paul Galvin retired, he saw opportunities where others saw difficulties. From a sub up to the middle of the 2012 championship, he now has 4-34 to his name in just nine full appearances.
How does he explain his transformation into a leader this season? “When you’re coming into a team and you’re maybe ranked as the sixth forward, that’s an easier game to play. You might chip in with two or three points but at the end of the day when you step up to the plate in the absence of Gooch or Paul Galvin that’s when there are responsibilities on you, that you have to deliver. So far we have done okay but you’re only going to be judged after winning an All-Ireland. I put it this way: the boys were at such a high level that when you were coming through at 19 or 20 you’re not there and you have to try and facilitate them more than maybe you’d like to. They’ve done it all, won everything and you’re trying to get up to that level while still being successful.
“Maybe it’s better to be just thrown in at the deep end and (be told) ‘you’ve got to go and win us this game, see what you can do’.”
A rare commodity, alright.
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