The cheeky grin, the loping run, the two footed kicker. All these were very recognisable to any supporter.
From an early age James O Donoghues talent was evident, his enthusiasm infectious. The great work done by the Clubs Academy was starting to bear fruit. A glance at the St Brendans College team that contested the Hogan Cup final in 2008 would see 4 Legion men in the first fifteen. Three of that four, Brian Kelly, Jonathan Lyne and James O Donoghue would start their Kerry journey that same year losing out in an All Ireland semi final replay to an Aidan O Shea inspired Mayo. By 2010 they were joined in the U21 Kerry set up by Podge O’Connor and all four Kerry careers intersected at various stages in the years that followed.
James, himself, made his Senior league debut, as a 20 year old, replacing Paul O Connor against Dublin in Killarney. One week later he featured against Cork but returned to the Under 21 squad for the remainder of the year. His Senior Championship debut came the following year, in 2011, when again in the famed Cathedral of Kerry Football, Fitzgerald Stadium, he was introduced as a late sub for Darran O Sullivan and kicked an impish insurance point .The next 12 months saw him secure his place in the Kerry forward line and in 2013 the blue torch paper was well and truly lit. With a solid Munster campaign behind them Kerry headed for the capital to take on the Dubs and in what many believe to be one of the greatest games of all time it went down to the wire as the Metropolitans just got home. But the lad from Scrahan Court had tormented the Blues defence with his mesmeric runs and skills, hitting them for 2-3. His coolness under pressure dispatching a penalty beyond the legendary Stephen Cluxton in front of the hysteric and manic Hill 16 had to be seen to be believed, his performances that year deservedly earned him an All Star, a first for the Legion Club.
His form continued into the 2014 League run, memorably hitting a hat trick against Tyrone but the best was yet to come. He lead the Cork defence on a merry dance in the last game to be played in the old Pairc Ui Chaoimh before its renovation, kicking 10 points from all angles, a display which lead RTE analyst Martin McHugh to proclaim O Donoghue “to be one of the greatest I’ve ever seen”. He terrorized the Galway defence in the All Ireland quarter final, hitting 1-5, but fair to say it was the next 2 games that were to define Kerry’s and James season. The rivalry with Mayo at this time was intense to say the least. If people thought the drawn game in Croke Park was a classic, they hadn’t seen anything yet. James’ late goal had earned Kerry a second bite of the cherry and the replay was fixed for the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on a Saturday evening. In this writer’s opinion, the 40,000 crowd in attendance were treated to the best game ever seen. An absolute battle from start to finish, full of sublime football, thundering challenges and an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. And in the middle of it all was James O Donoghue, conducting the orchestra while helping himself to 2-6, and not forgetting his clubmates Brian Kelly and Jonathan Lyne, his brothers in arms, all on the field when an exhausted referee Cormac O Reilly blew time on an epic 90 minutes. Its been said since by many that the All Ireland was won that day on the Ennis Road. The final itself was a tactical affair but again James was a central figure as he was asked to play in a more withdrawn role but his playmaking skills were to the fore as Kerry captured their 37th crown. The year ended with another All Star but more significantly James was crowned the Footballer of the Year, an unanimous choice.
Injury meant 2015 got off to a later than usual start, his made his seasonal debut against Tipperary in the Championship but he made up for lost time, netting a crucial penalty in the drawn Munster Final as Cork put Kerry to the pin of their collar and he was named Man of the Match as Kerry disposed of Cork in the replay. In a Summer where it seemed to rain for every game he scored freely in Kerry’s run to the All Ireland final. Despite being Kerry’s top scorer from play, in a monsoon, he was curiously withdrawn with the game in the melting pot. Nominated again for an All Star that year he would surely have added to his collection had Kerry been successful in that final against Dublin.
It was around this time in 2016 that the injury curse stuck and surgery on both shoulders meant a late start and in truth neither James nor Kerry’s season got going that year. James added the Munster Player of the Year Award to his collection in 2017, his third following 2013 and 2014 , as he hit Clare and Cork for nine and seven points respectively, but Kerry ran into a determined Mayo later that season .
The next 2 seasons were to see the injury jinx rear its ugly head again but there was still a glimpse of that old magic to be seen , especially during the Munster Championship , but luck deserted him when it was most needed and that along with Dublin’s dominance meant no further glory for the Kingdom.
As legendary teammate Kieran Donaghy said upon James retirement the one thing he admired outside of his skill was his determination to overcome the luckless injuries bestowed on him. Hours of solitary rehab meant no effort was spared in an attempt to continue to live the dream but with a Covid hit Championship for over two years the chances of getting back up to speed required for Championship intensity were diminished. A huge favourite with the Kerry public James stepped away from the Kerry set up mid season in 2021 before making it official in January 2022.
It must also be said in all his time involved with Kerry, from 2008 to 2021, he served the Legion magnificently, alongside his other Kerry teammates and carried his Club with him up and down the Country and in every ground he graced. Undoubtedly his finest performance for his club (and no doubt there will be plenty more in the future) came in the County Championship Quarter Final of 2015 against Kerins O Rahillys . It lead to one local journalist labelling him “unmarkable” as he blitzed the Narries rearguard for 3-3. The heartbreaking loss to South Kerry in the decider that year saw James injury woes start but bravely he carried on, despite his heavily strapped shoulder.
So the curtain comes down on James O Donoghue stellar inter county career but as always the Club can be assured of his full attention. As for the rest of us
” No matter what happened..
Some memories can never be replaced”
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (1): 2014
Munster Minor Football Championship (1): 2008
Munster Senior Football Championship (8): 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
McGrath Cup (1) : 2010
All Stars (2): 2013, 2014
The Sunday Game Player of the Year (1): 2014
All Stars Footballer of the Year (1): 2014
Munster Player of the Year(3):2013,2014,2017
Corn Ui Mhuiri (1):2008