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


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.”


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.”

His performance in 2013 did earn O’Donoghue an All Star, although as close as they came to beating Dublin, he doesn’t necessarily see it as a missed opportunity. “We probably could have won the game, but we didn’t. The Dubs were an excellent team last year, were probably better than us, and maybe they got a bit of a luck too. You always need some luck.

“But they took their chances, too. I haven’t seen the game in a long time. But if you get chances to put teams away, you’ve got to take them, especially in championship games. We probably missed a few chances.

“And that’s why you win the All-Ireland. Because you’re clinical. If you win an All-Ireland, you absolutely deserve to win the All-Ireland. You don’t win a lucky All-Ireland. You don’t win a handy one. You deserve to win it. We didn’t deserve to win last year, and now, we’re looking to put a few things right.”

Which brings him to Sunday’s showdown against Galway. The league, he says, was all about Eamonn Fitzmaurice trying out new players, and some new tactics, and even if some people had them written off going into the Munster final against Cork, O’Donoghue reckons he – and Kerry – were actually perfectly primed for it. Winning by double scores proved they were.

’Extra impetus’

“There was a lot of negativity about Kerry for awhile. People were thinking we were not going to offer anything in the championship and that can be tough to deal with. Against Cork we had a lot of questions to answer and I think that’s the best way to go into a game. We had that extra impetus, and I think that we used that well. In fairness, they left space at the back, we managed to punish them. There was no mad science behind it. It was just a bit of luck on the day and it probably won’t happen again.”

His personal tally of 0-10 is partly explained, he says, by freshness, that after missing the Munster semi-final win over Clare with a shoulder injury, the break was actually better than a rest. (The week after beating Cork, he also helped his club, Legion, beat Dr Crokes.)

“I played the whole league, every minute of it I think, and after the pre-season with Kerry I felt fit, very fit. Then to get injured, and thought ‘Jees, I’m gonna lose all this’. But I found that I didn’t really lose anything from the break. If anything, it probably did me a bit of good.”

He’s feeling even fresher now – having finished his college degree in sports science – and concentrating full-time, for now, on being Kerry’s new star forward.

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