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Kingdom lifted by Kieran Donaghy's new lease of life

By Declan Bogue

Up until the All-Ireland semi-finals, the occasional glimpse of Kieran Donaghy on the bench was like a reminder of old times.

Still with the shaven head, the hands like shovels and that grin, but robbed of his relevance, we recalled how on a sunny day in Longford, Jack O'Connor placed him on the edge of the square for Kerry while they bobbled through a series of backdoor games.

They needed something different and he provided that.

O'Connor recalls not being able to get through to him, until he moved him to full-forward, when he ignited.

"The records show 0-1 beside his name for an afternoon's work," recounted Darragh ÓSé in his autobiography. "He created three first-half goals and helped to get us moving."

One page later, ÓSé continued: "As for Donaghy, he wouldn't have played much underage. He was fortunate to make it to under-21 and it was only when he went to full-forward that he blossomed and caught everyone's attention."

He hit 1-2 in that year's All-Ireland final as they buried Mayo without fuss or fanfare and won Player of the Year.

A year later he was the main attraction again in the final, scoring twice against Cork, but inconsistency has never been far away.

Donaghy was shut out in the 2008 final along with Tommy Walsh, as part of the 'Twin Towers' attack, by Justin and Joe McMahon and when Kerry won back their crown in 2009, he was merely a second-half replacement for Darran O'Sullivan on 56 minutes.

He went away and got married, was picked out at in the crowd at the Superbowl and it seemed the larger than life character had outgrown the narrow focus required to be a Kerry footballer. Until Eamonn Fitzmaurice came along.

Suddenly, with a drive of a pass from David Moran he rolled back the years, fetching and dishing off for James O'Donoghue to stitch the ball in the net.

He scored in the replay and he goes into this final as the man Donegal will focus on most.

And it's all been down to hard work. No wonder that the former Irish Basketball Player of the Year – who played for Tralee Tigers and the international side – said of this year's NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs: "I took a fancy to the Spurs this year because they played like I'd like basketball to be played all the time. A load of unselfish players not caring who gets the credit."

Yes indeed, the awkward kid has come full circle.

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