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Kieran Donaghy's success story with Kerry had its foundations in Tyrone

By Declan Bogue

Published 22/11/2016

Memories: Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy at Tralee Bay
Memories: Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy at Tralee Bay
Kieran's late father Oliver, who hailed from Tyrone

When the subject of his father comes up, Kieran 'Star' Donaghy, four-time All-Ireland champion with Kerry, tells us that the longest chapter of his recently-released autobiography 'What Do You Think Of That?' comes in at over 10,000 words, examining their relationship.

Oliver was everything to him and, at the same time, nothing to him. There was just too much inconsistency and alcohol for him to be a steady factor in his life. And yet, he relates one tale when Oliver let him down, and ends it with another reprieve.

It is September 2008. Donaghy has already two All-Ireland medals and they are going for three-in-a-row. While he is preparing in Tralee and Killarney, his father is living in Omagh. Kieran spots the danger and speaks to him the day after Kerry beat Cork and Tyrone beat Wexford in their semi-finals.

"When they call, Dad, don't bother opening your mouth. Could you do that, please, Dad? For me?" he recalls.

And then Oliver forgets himself. Gets dressed up for the photographer, gives the reporters what they want. Tall tales of Kieran's childhood in Omagh and how he would shoot goals from all angles from no age.

And then he goes and really spoils it all. Says that if Kieran was still living in Tyrone, it would be Mickey Harte's men going for three-in-a-row, and how he was going to score 2-3 in the final for Kerry.

In Gaelic Games, giving the opposition motivation like that is an unforgivable faux pas.

"I was a lot less trustful of him after that, and a lot less in contact," he writes.

"I wasn't going to cut him off completely though. I suppose he'd always get the benefit of the doubt in my eyes, a fellow member of the old Monday Night Cowboys Club."

It's a reference to the shared nights when his mother Deirdre was away and he had his father all to himself. Bonding over Cowboy films, he and Oliver were just perfect.

There are two GAA books that have gained the most attention this winter, and if you are sufficiently moved to buy Cathal McCarron's autobiography, perhaps the perfect accompaniment is Donaghy's.

It has its dark moments too, not least involving his father, but following McCarron's with Donaghy's is like watching 'Sweet Valley High' after binging on the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series.

There are so many fascinating elements to Donaghy's life, captured in this book.

Last year, a decent winter on the basketball courts with St Brendan's prompted him to take a managerial role in the newly-formed Tralee Warriors who - while tearing it up with big crowds and all the razzmatazz of an American sport planted into the middle of a boisterous Kerry crowd - are now in serious bother due to problems at main sponsor Irish TV.

While on a Kerry team holiday to Miami, Donaghy opens the book with a ripping tale of when they took on the cream of Miami's South Beach in a game of basketball.

They were up against CJ and The Bird, the Kings of Flamingo Park.

"Look man, we're a football team from Ireland. We're heading home first thing in the morning. Win or lose, this is the last time we'll play in Flamingo Park," Donaghy says.

And CJ responds: "Like y'all might win?! Okay, go ahead then and get your sorry white asses kicked."

What do they do, these pasty Irish lads, 'in their sorry shorts and low-cut trainers'? They win.

As prevalent and fun as the basketball passages are, still Donaghy reveals more about the chemistry of the Kerry dressing room and management than the autobiographies of Darragh and Tomás Ó Sé combined.

There are moments of pure comedy involving Donaghy and his sometimes free-spiritedness that would offend the seriousness of manager Jack O'Connor.

His trip to see Chelsea in the Champions League final gifts us an insight into Colm Cooper's reactions that few would understand or appreciate.

It's in talking about family where Donaghy is most moving though. His mother was his rock. His Nan was his hero, the woman he pointed up towards in Croke Park when he scored goals in All-Ireland finals. 'A goal for Nan' she used to ask him for when he was a child.

His relationship with his father, he can now contextualise. The manic energy of his father in dragging him and his brother out of bed at first light during the holidays in Tyrone, contrasted with the dark times when the boys, along with their sister Sarah, would sit in his dingy flat doing nothing for an entire Saturday but judging his hangover by the amount of cigarette butts in the ashtray.

He puts it down to a bi-polar condition.

"It is obviously a coping mechanism. The oldest coping mechanism in the world for a person with bi-polar is to have a drink, take the edge off you, or cheer you up if you are feeling down," he says.

"My mother was such a saint really. I was always trying to figure out how he couldn't make it work with her. He had three lovely kids, everything was going ok down in Kerry and there was a good support structure with my grandmother just across the way from us."

Families are broken, lessons are learned painfully. That's the harshness of life.

Oliver died in 2012, sharing a miserable flat in Omagh with his dog, 'Star'.

Kieran took the dog home with him, renamed him Buddy, and went above and beyond in terms of care whenever the dog has been poorly, even visiting a Chinese acupuncturist once.

The Monday Night Cowboys Club is still intact.

Belfast Telegraph

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