July 29, 2006 was the day ev­ery­thing changed

The Kerryman (Tralee Edition) - - SPORT - Damian Stack looks at some of the sto­ries mak­ing back­page news over the past seven days

IT’S Kerry foot­ball’s ver­sion of where were you when. You know the sort of thing. Where were you when Neil Arm­strong walked on the moon? Where were you when you heard JFK had been gunned down in Dal­las?

Those epochal events have a way of stay­ing with you years or even decades later. Those mo­ments they break the mould of what we think is pos­si­ble, they re­de­fine the pa­ram­e­ters of what can and what can’t be done, they can de­fine an age, an era.

On July 29, 2006 a new era be­gan with a bang. If you were there – and we were on the Michael O’Con­nor Ter­race with St Fin­nans loom­ing large be­hind us – you aren’t likely to ever for­get it.

What­ever we were ex­pect­ing of Kerry’s new full-for­ward that day as we am­bled up to Fitzger­ald Sta­dium, this far ex­ceeded it. We watched him that day with a com­bi­na­tion of slack-jawed as­ton­ish­ment and giddy de­light. Was this re­ally hap­pen­ing? Could this guy be as good as he ap­peared to be?

Each time the ball went in he raised his gan­gly arms and plucked the O’Neills from the sky caus­ing ab­so­lute con­ster­na­tion in the Long­ford ranks. They re­ally didn’t know what hit them. They were the first, al­though by no means the last, to experience the par­tic­u­lar type of fear Kieran Don­aghy is ca­pa­ble of in­duc­ing in a full-back line.

At a stroke a sea­son had been res­cued, but even more than that you could see the pos­si­bil­i­ties open out in front of you. This thing had legs. No­body was dis­miss­ing what he’d achieved that day on the ba­sis that it was achieved against Long­ford (who to be fair were a stronger force then than they are now).

Don­aghy had too much about him for it to be shrugged off quite so eas­ily. Once you saw him there it was all so ob­vi­ous – ex­cept of course it wasn’t quite and that Jack O’Con­nor could see what the rest of us couldn’t.

It took Don­aghy just six­teen min­utes to blow a con­sen­sus apart, to leave half the coun­try ter­ri­fied and the other half scram­bling to find their own big man for the edge of the square. The big man was back and back with a bang.

What the rest of the coun­try would soon dis­cover is that there was only one Kieran Don­aghy. All those other Kieran Don­aghys were just im­i­tat­ing. There was al­ways more to the Austin Stacks man than his sheer size and abil­ity to field. This guy had the whole pack­age. Along with the phys­i­cal at­tributes – height and reach and spring and bounce – he had vi­sion and one of the best foot­ball brains of his gen­er­a­tion. Don­aghy was driven and bub­bling with en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. He had (has!) the abil­ity to make people feel bet­ter about them­selves.

The way he in­ter­acted with team mates be­fore, af­ter and dur­ing games told you so much about him. He was the fo­cal point of the team in more ways than one. He was both the tip of the spear and the cor­ner­stone.

The King­dom scored four goals against Long­ford that sunny Satur­day evening and Don­aghy had a di­rect had in three of them – he also won a penalty which Kerry didn’t con­vert – but it’s the one he as­sisted for Colm Cooper fol­low­ing an in­ter­cep­tion that was prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant of all.

Their on-field re­la­tion­ship would blos­som to be­come prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant part­ner­ship of each man’s ca­reer. To think of one is to think of the other. At their best the two men’s un­der­stand­ing was ab­so­lute. At their best they were down­right un­stop­pable. Don­aghy’s longevity is prob­a­bly the thing that con­firms his great­ness more than any­thing else. In a cri­sis – much as 2006 was af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing de­feat in the Mun­ster fi­nal to the old en­emy – he was the one Kerry turned to. Éa­monn Fitz­mau­rice – who came on as a sec­ond half sub against Long­ford all those years ago – was still call­ing upon Don­aghy over a decade later and over a decade later Don­aghy was still de­liv­er­ing the goods.

In Clones in July Don­aghy was the one who got his paws on a long ball to di­rect it into the path of a wun­derkind num­ber thir­teen to save the King­dom’s ba­con. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. There was some­thing a lit­tle bit­ter-sweet to that too. Can you imag­ine what sort of a part­ner­ship Don­aghy and David Clif­ford could have struck up if time had not caught up on the big man? Alas it wasn’t meant to be be­yond that fleet­ing cameo in St Tier­nach’s Park. Now prob­a­bly is the right time to call it a day. He’d given all he could to the cause and more. Not even he could have imag­ined all that awaited him as he sat in the old dress­ing room at the Lewis Road end af­ter be­ing handed the jersey by Jack O’Con­nor. It’s been a hell of a ride. He wouldn’t change it for the world and nei­ther could we. Thank you for the mem­o­ries.

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