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aches and pains James O’Donoghue’s talent shone bright when his body didn’t betray him

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Kerry's James O'Donoghue is hanging up his boots. Photo: Sportsfile

Kerry's James O'Donoghue is hanging up his boots. Photo: Sportsfile

Kerry's James O'Donoghue is hanging up his boots. Photo: Sportsfile

Back in February of 2020, before Covid was a thing and social distancing became the norm, there were flickers of a revival from Kerry’s James O’Donoghue.

Brilliant but luckless, there were signs that he was about to catch a break. The Irish Independent crunched the numbers and found that when he lined out against Galway that month, having played against Dublin the previous weekend, it was the first time in two years that the Legion man had started two games on the spin for Kerry.

To that point, he’d been through the mill. Damaged shoulders, popped hamstrings, calf issues and other troubles meant he’d never been afforded a proper injury-free run. Since he’d been crowned Footballer of the Year in 2014, he’d sat out more than twice the number of Kerry games (36) than he has started (17) across league and championship. In that context, starting two games in succession in a week wasn’t to be sniffed at.

Yesterday’s announcement really only confirmed what many knew. But so much time has passed since O’Donoghue was in his pomp that it’s easy to forget just how exciting he was. At one stage, he was the heir apparent to Colm Cooper in the inside-forward line. A classic inside-forward, with a dash of pace and a killer’s eye for a score.

It wasn’t long before the honours flowed. In 2013, he won his first All-Star and would tell a story about how not long after the ceremony he was at a table quiz where he inadvertently found himself as part of the answer to a question: “Name the two Kerry players who have won an All-Star but no All-Ireland?” Connie Murphy was one. O’Donoghue quickly figured out that he was the other. A number of the current Kerry side, including David Clifford, occupy that same position in Kerry football lore now.

O’Donoghue took himself out of that equation the following season, winning the Footballer of the Year award as Éamonn Fitzmaurice picked his way to another All-Ireland title.

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Reflecting on his time in charge of the Kingdom in early 2020, Fitzmaurice suggested that they might have gone a lot closer to winning again had O’Donoghue been able to stay fit.

“We weren’t a million miles away at any stage. A factor, I think sometimes, is James O’Donoghue hasn’t had much luck in the meantime in terms of staying fit. He stayed fit for all of that season in 2014 and was huge for us.

After starting his second game on the spin against Galway in 2020, he didn’t emerge after half-time. He was injured again. Even when Covid hit and delayed the league by six months, there was no Kerry return for the Legion man.

The writing has been on the wall for a while, but now it is official.

O’Donoghue’s body betrayed him too soon and too often, but his star shone brightly when it was allowed.

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