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Finding ways to stop Kieran Donaghy brought out the best in Donie Buckley

As he reflected on his inter-county football career with Limerick, Stephen Lucey shared with Off...


Finding ways to stop Kieran Donaghy brought out the best in Donie Buckley

As he reflected on his inter-county football career with Limerick, Stephen Lucey shared with Off The Ball his experience of working under "the best coach" he's had, Donie Buckley. 

In recent years, the Munster football championship has come under the exclusive control of Kerry.

The provincial runner-up six of the last seven seasons, even Cork - the province's outstanding runner-up - have not been able to wrangle back some control of Munster since their last win in 2012.

Although it seems some time ago now for Stephen Lucey, there was a time when the lie of this provincial land was a good degree more fecund for Munster's remaining counties. While they would ultimately never make the breakthrough, between 2003 and 2010, Limerick contested five finals if you factor in the 2004 replay.

"The only regret is that we never got over the line," admitted Lucey as he looked back on his inter-county career with Off The Ball, "but it isn't really about that though.

"At the time you never think about that, but in your later years as you're looking back you have to reach some serenity in your own mind.

"I played the game and I played it to my best. If all you're after is medals, you'll drive yourself bonkers."

Donie Buckley 5 July 2009; Limerick's Stephen Lucey remonstrates with referee Rory Hickey after he awarded a first half penalty to Cork. GAA Football Munster Senior Championship Final. Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

It is this attitude that allows Stephen Lucey to revisit the past without any accompanying sadness.

Of the many former teammates, managers and coaches he encountered throughout that era, one stood alone as he considered Limerick's years as a provincial contender.

"In 2010, I was marking Kieran Donaghy," he recalled of a Munster final that Limerick would only lose by 3 points to the reigning All-Ireland champions. "Mickey Ned [O'Sullivan] was our manager - or facilitator as he called himself - and he gave Donie Buckley free rein.

"Donie was the best coach I've ever had in any sport and leading up to that game, Donie's attention to detail was fantastic."

The Kerry native who recently departed Peter Keane's backroom team after enjoying previous spells with Kerry under Jack O'Connor, Limerick under O'Sullivan and Mayo, those who have worked under Donie Buckley's tend to reserve only the highest praise for him.

In conversation with Off The Ball, former Kerry footballers Aidan O'Mahoney and Kieran Donaghy each admitted that having worked with Buckley they couldn't grasp why Keane would let him go.

For a short spell 10 years ago, Stephen Lucey got a glimpse of why Donie Buckley has earned himself such an impressive reputation as a Gaelic football coach.

Donie Buckley 4 July 2010; Kieran Donaghy, Kerry, in action against Stephen Lucey, Limerick. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

One of the outstanding forward players of the day, the task of limiting Kieran Donaghy's influence throughout the 2010 Munster football final was given to Stephen Lucey.

An All-Ireland winner in 2006, 2007 and 2009, Donaghy had won two All-Star awards and had been named Footballer of the Year in that time.

"Donie brought a group of us into Mary I to the basketball court," recalled Lucey, "and he had me or Conor Mullane earmarked to deal with the aerial threat of Kieran Donaghy.

"He'd seen that what Kerry would do is go as far as the left or right half-back position in or around the '65 and they'd kick in a diagonal ball to Donaghy's outside hand.

"This would be a cross-field ball so if I was goal side I couldn't get to it because it would be outside me and he'd be taller, with a better reach. You'd have Colm Cooper then coming around on the loop.

"So, Donie went to work on that for two nights with a bunch of us. That's how we prepared for that game and it was a good battle."

Although Limerick started the game well and would lead Kerry by three points at half-time, the reigning All-Ireland champions upped the ante in the second-half and dominated much of the early scoring.

As for Stephen Lucey's personal battle with Kieran Donaghy and Buckley's plotting in the build-up, the Austin Stacks man was held scoreless himself, but played a crucial role in Colm Cooper's decisive second-half goal.

There are clearly some things that no amount of preparation can rule out from happening entirely.

Watch back Stephen Lucey's interview with Off The Ball in its entirety here

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Donie Buckley GAA Gaelic Football Kerry Limerick Mickey Ned O'Sullivan Stephen Lucey