How Kerry star James O'Donoghue played to max
'Every game could have been my last'
JAMES O'DONOGHUE played every game last summer as if it might be his last - and this may have contributed to a stellar campaign that culminated in him being crowned Footballer of the Year.
The Kerry forward has endured a long history of trouble with his left shoulder, but he spent most of the past season enduring problems with his right one.
This caused him to miss Kerry's Munster SFC opener against Clare while his training regime was severely curtailed for the rest of the summer … but none of these impediments stalled the Legion forward in his free-scoring tracks.
These ongoing problems make his sustained championship contribution all the more remarkable … but O'Donoghue yesterday revealed that, in a perverse way, they might have actually helped.
"I knew that I was lucky because if I had dislocated it properly again, I was out," he revealed, shortly before boarding a plane for Boston on the GAA/GPA All Stars football tour, sponsored by Opel.
"It sounds completely clichéd and terrible but I was actually playing my last game every game, that kind of way. That's honestly how I felt."
Is this what drove you on?
"Deep down, it probably did because it could be your last ball, like. If it comes in funny and you stick your arm out weird it could be game over."
Instead, it was game over for a succession of opposing defences as O'Donoghue shot the lights out against Cork in the Munster final, against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final (when his shoulder actually popped out and immediately back in), and in both semi-final epics against Mayo, bringing his SFC tally to 4-24.
Come the final against Donegal, he didn't actually score but still played a pivotal if understated playmaking role as Kerry claimed their first All-Ireland title in five years - and O'Donoghue his maiden Celtic Cross.
The player underwent shoulder ligament surgery at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry three weeks ago, and he now faces a six-month period of rehab with the plan to be flying fit for the start of Kerry's title defence next summer.
"They say six months, and I was up with the surgeon last Monday - he said maybe we'll take a few weeks off that," O'Donoghue disclosed.
"There's no pain or anything. I'll be back in plenty of time for championship anyway."
He reckons that his prior history of shoulder trouble helped him, from a psychological perspective, to deal with the issue this year.
"I had it done twice on my left, once on this side - I can nearly do it myself at this stage, I'd say!" O'Donoghue quipped, his arm still in a sling.
"I don't know why (this is the case). I have a gangly walk and my arms are all over the place; I'd say it just unsettles everything. So, since I was young, I kept dislocating my left one. But that's sorted now.
He continued: "You know, the thing about a shoulder injury is it's a complete mental injury. Because no matter what you do, you're kind of looking around to see if you're going to get a crack off someone. Once you clear your head, the shoulder injury is fine - it's not really the most painful one.
"I was lucky because of my other (shoulder), that I just knew the gig with it. That mental side of it wasn't really too big for me, whereas if it was two years previous with this arm (indicating his left) … I was useless! I couldn't function at all. So maybe that bit of experience was good."
The 24-year confirmed that he "tweaked" his shoulder "in every game really" during Kerry's unlikely All-Ireland run.
"Just over-extended it and I'd be down for a while. I think I subluxated it at one time (against Galway) - went out and came straight back in. It was at me for basically the whole championship."
Having collected his first All-Ireland medal, and second consecutive All Star, O'Donoghue delayed his date with the surgeon until after the Kerry SFC - Legion were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.
"I had the operation booked in for the week after the final of the county championship, so I was very optimistic! And I said if we got to the final, that I'd miss the Munster club, even if we won. We weren't going to win anyway, we were a bit short this year," he conceded.
The hard part - mind-numbing sessions of physio on his shoulder, many times a day - now lie ahead over the coming months. But his glass is very much half-full as he contemplates getting fit in time for next summer.
"Definitely," he asserted. "And especially because of the whole medical team side of it - they're on you all the time to be doing this, doing that. Jeez, it's painful - rehab, rehab. So I've no doubt that I'll be fine."
Missing the league might actually help Kerry's marquee forward keep a lower profile.
"The league can be a hard slog because you're going up to Donegal, Tyrone and Mayo and you can play poorly and next thing your confidence could be shot a bit," he reflected.
"You could lose a game and you're not going great. That was this year and it probably had a negative effect on us. I think I'll miss all that, I'll miss the hard slog and get the body right."
And his likely comeback date? "Hopefully late May or early June, all going well. But it's never that simple."