Kieran Donaghy, Kerry’s three-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland winning forward, will prioritise Gaelic football over basketball this summer, despite being named in Pete Strickland’s Irish international basketball squad yesterday.
Strickland, Ireland’s America-based coach, made it clear he was happy for his sport to play “second fiddle” in Donaghy’s life this year, having already established a warm relationship with the dual player, who has yet to play for Kerry this season.
Instead Donaghy’s winter has been spent with Tralee Warriors, the Kerry-based Super League team, where he has impressed Strickland with his versatility and leadership. “Kieran is a big personality on the floor,” Strickland said. “In our sport, so many guys are specialists but Kieran has a diversity of skills that makes opposing teams have to think long and hard about what he might do.
“I really like him – as a player, as a person. We haven’t chatted face-to-face yet but we have spoken at length by phone and what I really admire in him is his directness. He’s a winner. I’ve seen that quality shine through in my sport and have seen it from him in Gaelic football, too.
“Kieran is, quite simply, an impressive guy. I did my research and everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: that he’s a stand-up guy, a likeable man who has a huge will to win. And that’s certainly the impression I have formed of him.
“I’m fully aware of his status as a Gaelic footballer – and the hard-earned success he has gained in his career. We’ve got off to a good start, he and I. We communicate clearly and I intend to do so, continually.
“That is why I accept and respect the fact that Gaelic football is his priority. We will play second fiddle to Kerry and as September (the date of the All-Ireland football final) looms, Kieran and I will continue to talk. I’m building towards 2018, the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries. We share the same vision for Irish basketball.
“This is why I feel good about Kieran’s involvement. If we get him for 20 minutes, I know it’ll be a hell of a good 20 minutes. If we get him for a weekend’s training camp, I know it will be a hell of a camp. I don’t want to jeopardise his season with Kerry. Much depends on his availability.”
Thus far in 2017, Donaghy has been juggling life with Kerry and Tralee Warriors, training once a week with Kerry, while the Super League season comes to a conclusion. Due to end next month – shortly before Strickland has the first of his two training camps this year – there was a clear prospect of Donaghy’s Kerry career being compromised.
That evidently isn’t going to be the case now, although there is a strong possibility that he will retire from inter-county football at the end of this season and concentrate fully on basketball from that point forward.
Strickland, certainly, will be keeping the door open – although he is also aware of the perils of affording special status to one player. “The task within any coaching set-up is to build a team, to connect with one another. As individuals, we all like to feel appreciated and my role – and all the coaching staff’s jobs – will be to ensure guys feel valued. Having coached for so long (he got his first job in 1984) – I understand the importance of this.”
He also senses the importance of the national team being competitive. The FIBA European Championship for Small Countries – a biannual FIBA EuroBasket competition, organized by FIBA Europe – has only been won once by Ireland. So that’s the primary goal. Long-term, it’s qualifying for the Olympics. “We have to crawl before we can run,” Strickland said, having also included Neil Randolph, the brother of the Ireland and West Ham United goalkeeper, Darren Randolph, in his 20-man squad.
Four players playing overseas – Jordan Blount (University of Illinois), John Carroll (University of Hartford), Cian Sullivan (La Salle University) and Paul Dick (most recently Fuenlabrada, Madrid) – were also named in Strickland’s panel.