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Kieran Donaghy holds the keys for Kerry's attack against Dublin

By Declan Bogue

It took a long time for them to become aware of it, and they had already faced each other in two All-Ireland finals by then, but Tyrone's Joe McMahon and Kieran Donaghy spent a little part of their childhood only a couple of kicks of a ball apart.

Separated by the Tamlaght Road in Omagh, McMahon grew up in Clontarf Drive, while Donaghy lived with his father Oliver, of nearby Beragh, and mother Deirdre in Shandon Park. If Tyrone still had the current Kerry star now, you could only imagine how their own jigsaw would be complete.

For one thing, McMahon believes the Kingdom ace's personality would thrive in most environments, having played in a couple of International Rules series alongside him.

"He is very lively in company. Open and honest," says McMahon. "He has a good personality and there is a bit of craic out of him. He wouldn't be shy in getting involved in the action."

He will need to be involved in a different kind of action tomorrow. After being bullied around Croke Park in last year's All-Ireland final, the baseline for Kerry in this semi-final is to make an impression on Dublin's key men. That includes Philly McMahon, who Donaghy accused of eye-gouging last September as he got up off the ground.

"I think Dublin haven't really been tested with that high ball in the recent past," says McMahon. "There have been questions about their ability to deal with it but Kerry will ask a few questions that need answered.

"Donaghy at full-forward gives them an option. Although they drop men back, he is astute enough to hold a man off, or catch it himself, with the diagonal ball coming in, and Colm Cooper, David Geaney or James O'Donoghue coming in to feed off it.

"He is very intelligent in his running too. If a dropping high ball comes in, he can mark out a couple of yards for him to step into. The crossover with the basketball helps him in this regard. He's shown this in the past - this ability to go into full-forward and draw a bit of attention."

During their march to the Intermediate Club Championship title over the winter, Pat Spillane caught Donaghy wearing the white basketball singlet of St Brendan's Tralee.

Beating BC Leixlip Nemunas in the final, Donaghy (below) scored 18 points, provided 12 assists and horsed his way to a staggering 26 rebounds.

Afterwards, he wore that beatific smile as he collected the MVP Award.

Spillane says: "He is a great basketball player."

Kerry football held him enthralled as a child. In a 2006 interview, Donaghy recalled: "I've a picture at home of me sitting inside the wire in Fitzgerald Stadium at a Munster final. Pat Spillane's fallen out over the sideline and hopped his head off the small stone wall and he's bleeding."

Now, he is respected by the Kerry Golden Circle.

At 22, he had to suspend his basketball commitment. The twinges in his back sent up flares while Jack O'Connor demanded monogamy with the county footballers. At 33, he emerged from a winter's action in greater physical shape than in recent years, contributing to his fine start in the National League for Kerry.

In the past decade, nobody has shaped All-Ireland finals and semi-finals as much as Donaghy. In the 2007 final, he stripped Cork defender Michael Shields of possession to tap into the net goalkeeper Alan Quirke had vacated.

But it was his intervention in 2014, when retirement looked a distinct possibility, that could hold the key for the Kingdom tomorrow. Trailing to Mayo in the semi-final, Eamonn Fitzmaurice sent on Donaghy. A punt by David Moran, caught by Donaghy, flipped to James O'Donoghue and stitched to the net, got them out of Croke Park alive.

A matter of weeks later, those big waving arms scrambled Paul Durcan's mind and his kickout as he gifted Donaghy a chance, one that he took with a coolness that belongs to the finest of finishers.

McMahon feels he can have one of those days again when Kerry take on Dublin.

"If the ball comes in, Kerry have boys who can pick off that," he says. "If it works, then Dublin might drop Cian O'Sullivan deeper. And then the rest of the half-back line could drop deeper. That could create more space out the field for the likes of Bryan Sheehan and Donnchadh Walsh to pick off points in those pockets of the field."

For Spillane, there is only one place for him.

"They aren't going to beat Dublin with Donaghy operating in the middle, full stop," he notes.

"They have to ask questions and to ask questions, that means playing Donaghy at full-forward. He has to be. No doubt about it."

One last final throw of the dice, maybe for Donaghy, definitely for Kerry.

There is a chance that the Kingdom could suffer their third defeat in a row against Dublin. Time for the empire to strike back.



All-Ireland SFC semi-final:

Páirc an Chrócaigh , Sunday, 3.30pm

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