Red letter day for Rory Kavanagh
Donegal ace gears up for 'dream' Kerry final
IT will rank as one of the more surreal red mist moments of 2014 - a classic 'what happened next?' candidate for A Question of Sport - but it wasn't so amusing for the transgressor, Rory Kavanagh.
The veteran Donegal midfielder had just lost his boot during the Allianz League Division Two final against Monaghan in Croke Park. Then he momentarily lost his rag.
While retrieving said boot, he jabbed it towards the groin of Darren Hughes - with minimal force but maximum self-inflicted impact.
Kavanagh's transgression was spotted … cue a straight red card which earned a public post-match rebuke from his manager and a suspension for their Ulster SFC opener in Derry.
"We were here in August and Eamonn McGee lost his discipline and it's not good enough. It's something we could have done without. You represent your county, you've a duty to do the right thing," Jim McGuinness concluded.
Kavanagh has only started one competitive game since then, albeit the most recent and rewarding, against Dublin.
"Listen, a bit of it was my own fault too, getting sent off in the league final," the St Eunan's clubman now admits.
"That put me out of the first game; then I picked up a wee niggle that kept me out of the (next) game in Ulster. I'm back now to full fitness and that's the main thing, and pushing hard for a place in the final."
Kavanagh didn't feature against Antrim. He entered the Ulster final fray against Monaghan as a 46th minute replacement for Christy Toye. He replaced the same player after 43 minutes of the All-Ireland quarter-final, helping to reclaim some midfield initiative during that fraught battle with Armagh.
For the semi-final against the Dubs, he was wearing No 26 but parachuted in from the start.
"The talk about Donegal is that we only have 17 or 18 players, but that's been pushed out to maybe 20 players," he reflects.
"The boys who came in did very well and it was very hard for Jim to overlook them again for the next round of the championship. It's been a push to try and get back into the team."
A championship debutant in 2002 and recently turned 32, Kavanagh has been around the block and back.
Last winter had the look of a watershed juncture: Donegal had been humiliated by Mayo in Croke Park, and the husband of Kathryn was about to become a father for the first time (to baby Zoe in January).
"I needed a little bit of a push in the off-season," he confirms. "We got together and we made our plans for the year, and the general consensus was we didn't want to end it like what happened against Mayo.
"We wanted to show a bit of character and show what we were about. That was important to us. That was a big factor in coming back."
Then it was a question of practicalities: "I just had to go away and talk to my family and see what could be done.
"I've always had great support from my family and I'm delighted to be back, and it would be nice to try and go out on a high."
Any debts arising from Mayo, last August, or even Monaghan last April have been fully erased by Donegal's stunning ambush of the Dubs.
Yet he refuses to get suckered by the euphoria that followed. That performance, he points out, was only "good" if you started the clock running after 25 minutes ... now Kerry represent a whole new challenge.
"We watched the game against Mayo and (David) Moran had a horse of a game in the middle of the field with (Anthony) Maher," he points out.
"Obviously (James) O'Donoghue and (Kieran) Donaghy has given them a new lease of life at the edge of the square.
"There are threats everywhere and a lot of their players have won All-Irelands as well. It's hard to put your finger on one aspect of the game. Midfield, from my own personal point of view, is going to have a big bearing on the game."
He goes on to describe éamonn Fitzmaurice as a "shrewd operator. Tactically, he can mix it up too if he wants to. I'm sure he will have a few surprises in store for us and we'll just have to adapt on the day. We'll just have to wait and see how it pans out.
"You saw with the decision to drop Marc Ó Sé. He's not afraid to make big calls either and it worked out a treat - Marc went on and played very well."
Two years ago, Donegal took out Kerry in a quarter-final. "A big, big one for us because we had beaten a big power," Kavanagh recalls.
And now? "Playing Kerry on All-Ireland final day - it doesn't get much better than that," he enthuses. "They lead the way in terms of All-Irelands so it's definitely a dream one for us."