Footballer of the Year James O'Donoghue feels like the 'newbie' of the panel
JAMES O'DONOGHUE feels "like a newbie" on the Kerry panel as he seeks to regain his place in their pecking order for next month's Munster SFC semi-final.
This may sound strange coming from a current Footballer of the Year ... less so coming from a player who has spent almost seven months on the road back from serious injury.
O'Donoghue underwent major shoulder surgery last November and there followed a lengthy period of rehabilitation.
He hopes to play "some part" in Kerry's June 14 opener against Tipperary or Waterford but - speaking at AIB's launch of its All-Ireland SFC sponsorship - this back-to-back All Star admitted to a sense of having to prove himself all over again. "I do feel that," he said, "because I don't know how this year is going to go. Last year was fantastic and I'm starting from down here again. I just have my one goal - get on the team. It's like being a 'newbie' into the panel again.
"I think it's going to be very good for me," he continued, "because I literally have to completely focus on every step at a time. A lot of fellas who've had good years have come back the following year and had poor ones, because they haven't been able to find themselves again at the same level."
He confirmed that his shoulder was now "excellent" after putting "serious graft" into its rehab. "I feel far stronger than I was last year, way more solid, so I'm looking forward to testing it out."
He has picked up minor hamstring and calf niggles and sat out Killarney Legion's weekend county championship clash against Mid-Kerry; but he isn't concerned about these minor glitches, describing them as "part of the rehab process".
"I'll be training Tuesday night. They're only 7-10 day injuries," he assured.
Detailing his game-time thus far for club and county (the latter in internal games), he recalled: "I came on at half-time for the Legion against the Rahilly's in the club championship and put down the worst ten minutes ever - I was absolutely all over the place.
"I couldn't even run. I don't know what was wrong with me. My brain wasn't working. Thank God I blew that out of the system after ten minutes. I felt good after that. I feel ready now."
O'Donoghue had admitted, last summer, that he couldn't count himself a real Kerry player until he had won an All-Ireland final. Asked how he felt now, he replied: "I felt great for two or three months after winning the All-Ireland but now I'm kind of back to square one because I don't know where I stand in the team."
As for becoming Footballer of the Year, he maintained life "didn't change" before expanding: "I probably became more confident in myself, in football terms.
"I got the All-Ireland, the Footballer of the Year which was great - but it's literally onto the next one with Kerry. There's no mention of 2014 in the Kerry camp."
Maybe so, but that didn't stop at least one question harking back to last September and O'Donoghue's altered role as a deep-lying link man.
Asked if he would have preferred to play as an orthodox corner-forward against Donegal, he replied "no" and then explained why: "You literally might not touch the ball ... but you could score two goals. So which way do you go?
"It's a tough one because you could be standing on the edge of the square and there could be six bodies around you and you might get one pass here; but what do you do when you catch it on the '21' and there's six around you? Throw a leg at it? An old bicycle kick? You're not going to have time to turn.
"We decided in training the way we were going to go at it and, to be honest, it did pan out the way we thought.
"I know it wasn't pretty to watch - but no one was thinking about that after the final whistle."