Fitzmaurice predicts departing 'Star' Donaghy can be a future Kerry boss
A Kerry legend ... that was the view of former managers and teammates who joined a long queue in praise of Kieran Donaghy upon his inter-county retirement yesterday.
A future Kerry boss ... that was the prediction of Éamonn Fitzmaurice, during whose tenure the man they call 'Star' won his fourth All-Ireland medal.
"He has the personality to go into management," said Fitzmaurice, whose resignation in the wake of this year's 'Super 8s' exit has now been followed by Donaghy's departure.
"He is the ultimate team player, has a strong appreciation of the team dynamic, possesses a great tactical understanding of the game and most importantly is brimming with ideas.
"I can definitely see him successfully managing Kerry teams in the future."
At the age of 35, and with a further raft of Kerry young guns likely to be promoted by a manager yet-to-be-appointed, Donaghy's decision to call time on his decorated career is no surprise. But while the timing was right, he leaves a giant shadow far longer than the one cast by his giant 6'5" frame.
The Austin Stacks clubman came from a basketball background, and the vision and soft hands honed on the hard courts would prove invaluable when he rose to GAA prominence.
Yet that was no instant success story; he first flickered across our consciousness on the GAA's noughties answer to reality TV - TG4's Underdogs - before featuring off the Kerry bench during their run to the 2005 All-Ireland final.
But 2006 was, undeniably, his breakthrough year. He had started the drawn Munster final against Cork only to be red-carded and miss the replay.
Jack O'Connor, his manager that year, took up the story in a statement marking his retirement. "He revolutionised our fortunes against Longford," O'Connor recounted of the qualifier that saw Donaghy converted into a full-forward target man, to devastating effect.
"Kieran missed the replay against Cork and was back for the Longford game. In the four games before Longford, we scored no goal and in the next four games we scored 11 goals! We scored four goals against Longford and Kieran was involved in all four, such was his influence. Kieran provided us with a new focus.
"He had a brilliant combination of size, strength, agility and great hands. His basketball knowledge and skill played a huge part in his game.
"Kieran had an infectious enthusiasm and proved a hard man for any defence. His temperament was ideal and he was a real team player.
"Bomber Liston was a central feature of Mick O'Dwyer's great team, and I would say that Kieran Donnaghy is the same category as the Bomber and he undoubtedly was the 'Bomber' of our team," O'Connor concluded.
After his first Celtic Cross in '06, Donaghy followed up with three more - in '07 (under Pat O'Shea), '09 (with O'Connor back at the helm) and finally in '14 (under Fitzmaurice).
Through it all he formed a telepathic partnership with Colm Cooper, while his ability to conjure big scores on the biggest days was reflected in his All-Ireland final hauls of 1-2 (Mayo '06), 2-0 (Cork '07) and 1-2 (Donegal '14).
He came off the bench in the '09 win over Cork after a summer badly disrupted by injury.
Fitzmaurice described him as a "totemic figure", adding: "He bookended his career by re-energising an ailing group in 2006 and inspiring a new group in 2018."
While saluting the physical attributes and basketball background that made him an "outstanding" fulcrum of Kerry's attack, he said Donaghy's biggest asset was his "personality coupled with an unmatched energy. His will to win and determination to succeed are what make him different ... a snapshot of the 2014 season epitomised his resilience where he failed to see game time in the All-Ireland quarter-final but ended up absolutely central to that All-Ireland win."
Former colleagues were quick to echo their praise.
"The best team-mate I ever had bar none," declared Marc Ó Sé via Twitter. "The ultimate team player. Never gave up. Was never beaten. And he was some craic in the dressing-room as well."
Another retired Kerry defender, Aidan O'Mahony, tweeted: "He wasn't called the 'Star' for no reason, epitomised everything about being a Kerry legend, on and off the field."