Paul Donnelly, the Kilkenny footballer in 'that' picture, gives his first interview
Kilkenny’s most famous footballer Paul Donnelly tells JOE about kicking ball for the Cats, his move to London and, of course, ‘that’ picture.
In an ascent to celebrity that could only happen in our Facebook and Twitter dominated world, Kilkenny’s Paul Donnelly went from full-back on the most maligned Gaelic football team in the country to an internet sensation when a picture of him standing beside Kildare legend Dermot Earley went viral this week.
The reason the picture was so popular was the contrast in physiques but a few minutes talking to Paul reveals that while Earley might have made one or two more visits to the gym of late, the Kilkenny man is just as committed, and just as passionate about his county as the feted All Star. He’s also great craic and taking his new-found celebrity in his stride.
When we spoke, the first thing to ask about had to be ‘that’ picture. How did it come about?
Kilkenny were scheduled to play Kildare in the Leinster Junior Football Championship and a friend of Paul’s had given him a few tips on the likely Kildare full-forward. But when the teams lined out, it was two-time All-Star Earley who trotted out to play front and centre.
“I turned around to our keeper [when I saw him] and said ‘deadly’,” he says with a hearty laugh. But whatever conclusions people have taken from the now infamous snap, Paul held Earley to just two points during the game. That tells us more than the picture ever could about the match up.
Paul became aware of the picture through Facebook and after being initially a little uncomfortable, understandably, his attitude quickly changed.
“There’s no point getting upset about it,” says Paul and he tweeted Earley joking that he was making him look bad and the two have chatted on Twitter since. And one friend of Paul’s who came across the picture on Facebook texted him to ask “who’s the fella beside you, he’s very old looking?” No one is immune to online criticism it seems.
I want to play football for my county. Every time I pull on the jersey I’m honoured, you know
The sad story of the picture is that it might be Paul’s last appearance in the famous black and amber. Next Friday, Paul sets off for London, for a new job and a new club, Taras. He’s not going by choice, and he will miss life as a Kilkenny footballer, despite the popular perception of life for a Kilkenny footballer.
Paul is passionate about Gaelic football, and he comes from a predominately football club, Railyard, near the Laois border, though hurling is catching up in the parish. While Paul only has praise for those involved in keeping Gaelic football going in his county, like Ned Quinn, he is not happy at the recent suggestion, floated yet again within the county, that Kilkenny withdraw from the National League.
“All the players are against it, we haven’t even been asked what we wanted. At the end of the day, we’re the boys going out and getting leathered and they haven’t even asked us. It’s easy for the other clubs to put this to the County Board. What about the players? It’s a step backwards.
“I hope it doesn’t pass. What are lads in the county supposed to do? We have some good footballers. One of our midfielders, Michael Malone, would make any football panel in the country. If we pull out, where’s he going to play? Wexford, Laois?
“I want to play football for my county. Every time I pull on the jersey I’m honoured, you know. We get unbelievable slating. On internet forums, even on the pitch. An opposing player in this year’s league told us we were useless and asked where were our sticks?”
But Paul’s good humour, and love of playing football, shines through despite it all. He jokes that he's in the process of discussing personal terms with Roman Abramovich - at least we think he's joking - but Paul will continue playing hurling and football by the Thames, so he could yet be appearing for the Exiles next season. Sadly, the club championship will be much better in London than Kilkenny too, so Paul will at least get to play some games with the sun on his back rather than the harsh conditions of winter.
Before we finish, we must return to the picture. After all, Paul’s Twitter bio - @pauldonnelly21 - now reads: Kilkenny footballer most famous for marking dermot earley and getting a pic with him with my belly sticking out.
Paul’s father is from Kildare and father and son were at Croke Park for the 1998 All-Ireland, cheering on Dermot Earley and Co in their failed bid for that precious breakthrough.
Paul came home from Wednesday night’s game and told his father who he had been marking, expecting him to be impressed that such a legend had been in such close quarters to his son on the pitch.
“Sure he’s an oul lad now,” was his father’s less than impressed response. It’s hard to beat a GAA fan for a withering putdown.
Anyway, Paul will soon be off, set to leave for pastures new. We just hope there's a game for him when he returns to his native county. It's the least Kilkenny's most famous footballer deserves.