WHEN Armagh fans think of Kieran Donaghy, their minds will probably wander back to the 39th minute of the 2006 All-Ireland quarter-final.
Both teams had been in some massive games over the previous few years, but there was extra intrigue ahead of that Croke Park clash.
The Tralee man had come from nowhere to be perhaps the most effective forward in the game. After a midfield masterclass on TG4’s Underdogs, he was drafted in the Kingdom panel and was regarded as a real option around the middle.
Then in 2006, Jack O’Connor decided to throw him in at full-forward for a Qualifier against Longford and he caused havoc. He took two great fetches from long balls to set up Eoin Brosnan for a pair of goals before having a big hand in Colm Coooper’s goal.
A’ Star’ was born, but he was coming up against the biggest cult full-back in the game – Francie Bellew.
Every time a high ball went towards the square, a hum of excitement came over Croke Park, and for 37 minutes the Crossmaglen man was doing what he could, despite being hampered by an early yellow card.
Then, with the scores level in the 39 minute, Sean O’Sullivan’s pass from the Cusack Stand side saw Donaghy leap above Bellew. He fell to his knees, recovered, turned Bellew with a spin and blasted past Paul Hearty. By the time the ball was in the back of the net, Donaghy was screaming in Hearty’s face with the pair having a verbal battle throughout the game.
Kerry would go onto win three of the next four All-Ireland titles. This would be the first of three straight championship losses for Joe Kernan that would ultimately end with his resignation following their Qualifier loss to Derry the following season. Donaghy’s strike was, in all reality, the nail in the coffin for that superb Kernan Armagh team.
So now, as he comes to Ulster trying to help those same orange jerseys that he terrorised, Donaghy said he cannot wait to get started following his surprise addition to Kieran McGeeney’s management ticket.
“They’re at the top table now, never mind in my playing days,” said Donaghy. “They are in Division One and this is where you have to be.
“That was the case for that great team and that is why they got to the level they managed to.
“They got over the line in 2002 and were extremely unlucky to come up against the best Tyrone team of all time and a very strong Kerry team at the time.
“Armagh were right there, they were dominant in Ulster. You look at 2005, they came up against the best Tyrone side with Peter Canavan, Owen Mulligan and Steven O’Neill in the full-forward line, that’s as good as you’re going to come up against.
“That Armagh team was brilliant too with Stevie McDonnell and Ronan Clarke and obviously Geezer with Paul leading the line in goals!
“Paul was only doing what I’d be expecting him to be doing, rattling the big lanky full-forward. They very nearly have been done, I say I was very close to being carted off before the end of the first half because they were doing such a good job on me.
“Thankfully I got a few breaks in the second half but Armagh still came roaring back and got it back to two points. Darran O’Sullivan then gambled on a hand-pass from Enda McNulty and raced through and finished.
“There’s a great history there. Paddy Moriarty would have been a relative of mine. My grandmother is a Moriarty and the tales of Paddy Mo would have been told to me when I was a youngster.
“I’m well aware of the great tradition in the county and I know having been up there for work, and I have an uncle in Lurgan, they would have had good time for the golden teams.”
Armagh advance into the 2021 season with plenty of questions still to be answered. In the National League, McGeeney has brought them from third-tier football to the top division, but when it comes to the championship it has been underwhelming.
Donaghy was on Sky Sports duty for their Ulster semi-final loss to Donegal in November when an expected stiff challenge turned into a billowing white flag at a breezy Kingspan Breffni.
It was an off day for all involved, but there still is a belief that they have one of the most exciting attacks in the country.
Donaghy said that his remit was not solely to work on attacking play, but he did say that he was looking forward to working with this particular crop from the Orchard.
“There are loads of pieces of the jig-saw there,” he said.
“I’ll be with working with the management on the defensive side of the ball too, but absolutely in attack there is buckets of quality there.
“They’ll be an exciting bunch to work with and I’ll try and put my own stamp on it. The platform is there thanks to the work Kieran has done with them to get them up through the divisions.
“I played in Division One my whole career so I’ll hopefully be able to help on the experience side of it and give an insight into how tough it is. How much you are punished when you make mistakes and how clinical you have to be when you get those chances.
“Your shot selection has to be of a very high standard and your conversion of a high percent because when you get chances in Division One you can’t be snatching at it and kicking it wide, you have to make the pass to the lad who is open. The higher percentage shot.
“They will learn a lot through the league this year, it will be a huge learning curve to get games against the best teams in the country.
“That can only make this young team better. Look, they might get harsh lessons but they could have inspirational wins as well.
“It’s an exciting journey for these players. They have worked so hard over the last number of years and what they worked for is to be in with the big dogs and to be playing big games every week.
“They should look forward to that side of it; it’s been a hugely enjoyable journey for them. The backroom team have helped them on that journey. I’m only coming in late on it, but hopefully I can add something fresh to it. A different set of eyes on things.”
With Sean Boylan joining the Down u-20s in an advisory role with Conor Laverty, there was a sense that this appointment could be similar. A big name to bring a bit of sparkle, but someone who wouldn’t be overly visible.
Donaghy has shut those suggestions down and said that he will be heavily involved with his work situation freeing up the possibility to be a regular at Callan Bridge and the Athletic Grounds.
“I’m going to be there every week,” said Donaghy.
“I’ll be doing a bit of coaching and what Kieran wants off me is a fresh set of eyes on all the players.
“I would have watched a lot of them obviously over the last while. I covered the game with Sky Sports where they nearly beat Mayo in the Qualifiers in Castlebar (2019).
“I was really excited about what I saw. I met Kieran that night and we had a few pints and since then we have been in contact, and very much so over the last three months.
“It’s not out of the blue, I’m not driving from Kerry to Armagh for every session. I work in Dublin on Thursdays so I’ll hopefully get to plenty of Thursday and Saturday sessions. I’ll be getting two sessions with them on those occasions, which is a great opportunity for me to get to know the boys.
“It’s very exciting for me and in my role in management I’m looking forward to learning a lot off Kieran and his brilliant backroom team.”
The four-time All-Ireland winner also said that Armagh fans should be getting excited about the future as they prepare for their first venture in Division One since 2012.
“To the Armagh fans, I think you are very lucky in what you have up there. You have great continuity in what Kieran has done over the last six years.
“That’s continuity that so many counties crave, somebody that they can trust, that they know will do right by the players and by the county.
“They have someone who cares very much about the county and they are very lucky to have that in place.
“Kieran nearly got that Kildare team to an All-Ireland final (2010) and they haven’t reached those heights again.
“He was always competitive with them even in a division where Dublin were very dominant.
“I think he is loving the role and being back up with his own people in Armagh. They’re also lucky with the set-up they have put in place. The backroom team is really, really good.
“The project is really exciting. Kieran married a good Ballymac (Ballymacelligott) woman in Maura O’Rahilly. She is out the road from me and I played basketball with her brother on the South-West of Ireland team many moons ago.
“Kieran and I would have met a number of times over the last number of years when he was down, so it’s not something out of the blue.
“The work I’m doing with PST Sport, it’s an artificial grass company and we’re doing quite a few pitches now in the north. My role as sales director is to get more and more business up in the north.
“That was already on my agenda list. During the first lockdown myself and Colin (Teahon), the managing director, had spoken about looking at the north, so I was planning to be up here a lot anyway. We did Owenbeg, the Derry centre of excellence, hockey pitches and a few other projects.
“I was speaking to Kieran in the background and knew that this was maybe going to be a possibility to align it all together. I do a lot of work in Dublin and I stay over, and now I’ll just be doing that in the north rather than staying over in Dublin.”
And for now the clock is ticking and Donaghy expects to meet the players very soon.
“The season, it seems, will run from February to the end of July so we don’t have much time so that’s why I’m trying to get there every week, and if I can get there twice week all the better.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to work with them.”
By Niall McCoy