Hurling where Keaney's heart is
Published 11/02/2011 | 05:00
Sometimes a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
Conal Keaney has walked away from a team that was a couple of rash decisions away from reaching an All-Ireland football final they would probably have won for another that is struggling to haul itself out of hurling's backwaters.
After six years giving exclusive chase to an All-Ireland football medal, Keaney cut his ties and followed his heart in early January.
He knows the scale of the choice he has made. The big days in Croke Park, the best support, the sense that, after the progress in the latter part of 2010 and the level playing field that every football team now confronts, Dublin could now be in the right place at the right time to take the extra leap.
Keaney might well have just removed himself off a rollercoaster and booked a ride on a carousel instead.
For all their potential, for all the competitiveness of their last two league campaigns and the 2009 championship under Anthony Daly, life with the Dublin hurlers exists in the slipstream of where he has come from.
But he's happy with the choice he has made, regardless of the optics it might create. Keaney made his move just as his football colleagues were rolling themselves out of bed for another January of Spartan-like morning training sessions.
Crossing the city on icy roads well before most of the city's inhabitants have stirred themselves can't be appetising for any prospective Dublin footballer, especially one who became more isolated from the starting team than he had been in any of the six previous years with Dublin.
For Keaney to become a Dublin hurler again, it wasn't the right time for him, but the only time.
Leave it another year, he insisted yesterday, and it would probably never have happened.
"I'm only 28 and I'm going to give this year a go and see how what happens. I had to do what I really wanted to do. I had been thinking about it. I was very close, but I just decided to give it one more year with the footballers to see how things went. I always wanted to go back and play hurling and see how I got on."
The prospect of mixing up his football and hurling commitments was briefly considered, but everyone knew it wasn't really an option.
"It crossed my mind alright. But it just wasn't to be. I just made the call to go with the hurling and I'm really not looking back now.
"It (playing both) just wouldn't have worked. The way teams are training now, it's more or less full-time. I would have been caught between two stools, so I just had to make a call."
That call won't alienate him as a footballer again in the future, he feels.
"Pat (Gilroy) more or less said it. The door is never closed to anyone. At the moment, I'm just concentrating on the hurling. I'm trying to get as much hurling as I can, be it on my own or with training, because it's all about touch and trying to get it back."
It's a hope for Keaney, not a fear, that the footballers go on and achieve big things in the season ahead.
"Last year was very close against Cork and it's only small things that make the difference. I hope that they can progress from that now. They have a couple of new lads in this year which could make all the difference."
His 'calling back home,' as many in Dublin would see it, given his natural ability as a hurler, has opened his eyes to how physical the game has become at inter-county level.
In six years the differences are quite discernable. "It's a lot more physical than it had been. When I was playing it was really all skill and you relied heavily on that. Now the football tackle is coming into it everywhere.
"You're getting hit all the time so you have to be a lot stronger and a lot fitter."