Kieran Donaghy makes the play that saves the day for Kerry
The man known as Star sets up vital goal for new kid James O’Donoghue
Kieran Donaghy and fellow Kerry substitute Barry John Keane after the final whistle had blown on the drawn All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Mayo at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Remember the great days of Gooch and Star? Mayo do. Mayo always will.
That time has probably passed for good but the Star (Kieran Donaghy) waded into the Croke Park swamp yesterday to give an all too brief yet thrilling reprise.
No Gooch Cooper this weather but there is James O’Donoghue. The masterful, uncontainable James O’Donoghue. Keith Higgins did earn the respect of the flowing Legion attacker but it was Kerry’s old one-two combination that saved them in the end.
Donaghy arrived into midfield, promptly rising to gather ball and draw foul.
Before long he was inside, repeating the heroics of his 2006 footballer of the year showing while exposing the unfathomable decision by Mayo manager James Horan to leave Ger Cafferkey alone on the 6ft 5informer basketballer.
A possible defence for Horan is 14-man Mayo had to cut lose, take risks to survive. This they did with admirable aplomb.
But it was the ball rained down on Donaghy that allowed him find O’Donoghue for the goal that changed everything.
“Ah, he played well,” said manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice of O’Donoghue who has now compiled 2-18 in three championship outings.
“The goal obviously was huge for us. We needed it at the time. After Kieran’s catch it was important.
“James has been having a great summer but he knew and we knew there wasn’t going to be an acre of grass in front of him, that it was going to be tough for him.
“Sign of a great player is he kept at it, kept chipping away and kept trying to contribute.
“And he contributed very well for us.”
He contributed 1-3 of Kerry’s 1-16 total.
Beforehand there was some concern about his shoulder. No better man than Aidan O’Shea to examine this with a thundering shoulder that left O’Donoghue in a heap.
He got back up and marauded ever onwards.
Donaghy’s season has been shrouded by Fitzmaurice’s Kerry moving on without him; a victim of the attack being built around O’Donoghue.
“Kieran came on at midfield but we had it at the back of our heads that we could use him inside if we needed to. And we did need it. He was fantastic when he went in.”
A sign of a great player is he kept at it, kept chipping away behind the scenes and when the chance came to contribute he did. Just like old times.
Declan O’Sullivan is another from the old guard excluded by Fitzmaurice, his former teammate, due to injury. But he was in for Stephen O’Brien on 20 minutes and wasted no time giving the ball away.
He looked anything but his usual self. Some say they saw a limp.
Bryan Sheehan also arrived and very nearly crushed Mayo’s dream with a long, long range free at the death. A heavily strapped hamstring, he too may not be fit enough to start come Saturday evening.
“We had to put as much thought into the team that finished as started. That won’t change for next weekend,” said Fitzmaurice
Another player who finished but didn’t start was Kieran O’Leary. He too contributed with that vital late point.
“I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Mayo as well,” Fitzmaurice added.
“They showed a lot of character. They really went after it in the second half.
“They showed why they are such a great team; that they just keep coming back and why they were so close to winning an All-Ireland in the last few years.
“They really came after us with 14 men in the second half. We sat back, which wasn’t something we planned to do. We made it a lot harder for ourselves.
“We’ve plenty to improve on for next weekend but if you had asked with five minutes to go would I have taken a draw I’d have snatched your hand off.”
A needless question about whether it felt more like victory or defeat did reveal Fitzmaurice’s mild-mannered anger at the collective performance.
“It feels like a draw. Look, we were lucky in the end. We know that. It was really a case of snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat. The lads showed great character to come back into it.
“I would question why we were in that position in the first place. I’m delighted with the spirit the lads showed, particularly late on, but we’ve plenty to work on for next week.”
And plenty of decisions. Who to start and who to finish, that is the question.