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‘He started in 2001. Some of the group we have at the moment were barely born then’

Last December, after winning the Kerry county senior football final, Austin Stacks captain Dylan Casey thanked everyone involved in the win.

But he singled out Kieran Donaghy, the veteran who continues to serve their club despite other responsibilities.

Donaghy’s impact is still felt in the Austin Stacks dressing room before of Sunday’s Munster final.

Casey quotes Kieran Donaghy.

“His leadership qualities and 20 years of expertise in the dressing room. He started in 2001, he said before the county final. Some of our current gang were barely born.

“He’s gone through it all. I believe Wayne (Quillinan, Austin Stacks manager) enticed him back in with the split season.

“He’s been a long-time Stacks fixture. Casey learns from Donaghy’s presence in attack as he sharpens his defensive skills.

“Between myself and Barry Shanahan, I’d have to mark him for a lot of sessions. You’d learn from him how to move around and make the most of his presence.

“He always gave me notes, little snippets of what made them good, and what I could better in my own game. It’s vital I remember that.”

Casey’s profile has risen in recent years. A Munster U20 champion with Kerry in 2020, a leader like Austin Stacks last year.

Jack O’Connor’s return to the Kerry senior bench was expected. Casey says he wants to make a mark there, but his immediate focus is on the club scene.

Casey was a young fan when Austin Stacks last visited Munster in late 2014.

“My most vivid Stacks memories are from 2014. It was a trip for both players and fans. In Tralee, there was a huge Ballincollig parade and a gathering of Stacks and Ballincollig supporters. You can see it on video.

“Then there was the Munster final march to old Páirc U Chaoimh. Then, at Portlaoise, I would have marched alongside the supporters against Slaughtneil. I was watching my heroes in an All-Ireland semi-final. Great memories.”

His debut appearance in Munster isn’t remembered kindly. Austin Stacks, who represented Kerry in the 2019 club championship, were thrashed 18-0 by Nemo Rangers.

“We want to set that right, in the correct way, make sure we were there on merit and won the county championship here in Kerry before we even made the next phase,” he acknowledges. It was against Newcastle West. I said before the game that it was crucial to bring the emotions from three or four years ago, the upset in the locker room. Thankfully, we outgrew it.”

That means an All-Ireland semi-final spot. Due to his commitment to Austin Stacks, Casey was not involved with UCC in last night’s Sigerson Cup action.

He will need to defend against Cork champions St Finabrr’s, as he did during the Kerry tournament.

“Sean O’Shea and David Clifford are two huge names in Kerry and Irish football. It was a huge challenge. and I was curious to discover where I was. They are the best footballers this country has to offer. It was vital for me to prepare well and assess my progress over the next months.” Casey. vital to our year’s success. He inspires us and leads us like no one else in the county.”