James O’Donoghue a featured player as Kerry cast changes

Forward has embraced responsibilty to become a star of the side as they get ready to face Galway

James O’Donoghue in action against Cork. He says his personal tally of 0-10 in the Munster final is partly explained by freshness. Photograph: James Crombie/inpho

James O’Donoghue in action against Cork. He says his personal tally of 0-10 in the Munster final is partly explained by freshness. Photograph: James Crombie/inpho

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 01:00

In the six years since Kerry last played Galway in the football championship both counties have made several rewrites to their script. When they meet in Croke Park on Sunday, a belated sequel to their 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final, there’ll be an almost entirely different cast.

Kerry, then back-to-back All-Ireland champions, won by five points, and had lots of men in starring roles: all three Ó Sé brothers – Darragh, Tomás and Marc – plus Tom O’Sullivan, Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan, Tommy Walsh, Diarmuid Murphy, and, although he was suspended at the time, their still spiritual captain Paul Galvin.

Cooper’s season-ending injury (and Walsh’s Australian foray) means Marc Ó Sé is the only survivor from those particular stars. There are other ties (Declan O’Sullivan, Bryan Sheehan and Donnchadh Walsh), and yet it was the eventual necessity for thorough recasting which elevated Kerry’s current stars such as James O’Donoghue.

“I’d put it this way,” says O’Donoghue. “Those boys were at such a high level that when you were coming through, at 19 or 20, and you’re not there yet, 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.

“So 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’. Because 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 extra well in the absence of Gooch, or Paul Galvin, that’s when there are responsibilities on you, that you have to deliver.”

Entitled

O’Donoghue’s rise, however, is not merely explained by the absence of Cooper and co: he broke onto the senior team in 2011, under then manager Jack O’Connor, appeared in all six championship games in 2012, and last year stepped it up again – helping Kerry to very nearly take out Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, scoring 2-3. He’s now scored 4-34 in his 14 championship appearances.

He still credits O’Connor for giving him his start, but at 23 only now feels entitled to the role he has earned for himself within the Kerry team: “Jack gave me my chance, and a lot of my age group. It was hard to get on that team, because they were so good, and you’re not going to risk and throw in a 20-year-old when you have proven, brilliant players on the field. It’s up to the player on the bench to step up and earn a place and that’s it, basically.”

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