Sunday 26 February 2017

Keane looks to change family fortunes

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

CONAL KeanE grew up around AIL finals and tomorrow at Donnybrook he'll be looking to change a bit of family history.

As a teenager, he watched his older brother Killian wear the blue of Garryowen at Lansdowne Road four times, but never come away with anything better than a silver medal.

Victory for Old Belvedere in their first final would give him something to brag about at home out in Skerries, but everyone at Anglesea Road knows just how difficult it's going to be against a Cork Constitution side with bags of final experience.

Of the squad, only Andy Dunne, the wily 32-year-old ex-pro who plied his trade for Harlequins, Bath, Leinster and Connacht has tasted the big day, although coach Phil Werahiko suffered two defeats at this stage during his time with Clontarf.

The closest Keane came was when he too wore the red and blue of the northside club, but his run was ended at the semi-final stage by a Garryowen side coached by his older brother. He's hoping he's not hexed.

"We got sick as a family of going to All-Ireland finals because we lost four," he says. "Two to Shannon, one to Young Munster and one to Cork Con, so hopefully that won't be an omen and it'll be fifth time lucky.

"Killian didn't win the AIL. I was looking at a picture on the kitchen wall at home with himself and (Belvedere prop) Vinny Soden's older brother (Philip) who was the captain of Con back in '98 or around then."

There was a certain Ronan O'Gara playing for Cork Con that day and he kicked the winning points.

"When I got to the semi, we got knocked out by a Garryowen side coached by one Killian Keane, so I don't know if the family connection is a good thing or a bad thing. I would certainly be rubbing it in his face if we won it -- in a nice way," he said.

Through his Irish international older brother and good friend Dublin footballer Bryan Cullen, Keane has plenty of big-game advice to call on if needed -- but he might have been best avoiding the subject of finals against Cork teams with the latter this week.

He is a dual status player with Skerries RFC and could have chosen the easier life. A newly qualified solicitor, the 27-year-old must balance his work with his life as an amateur, top-level rugby player, but when Werahiko asked him to cross the Liffey with him two years ago, he gladly obliged.

"I was given the chance by Phil to keep playing AIL Division 1 and I decided to take it," he said.

Keane is set to feature in the final, but at this stage he is unsure whether he will start. He has been sharing the No 10 jersey with Dunne and the more experienced man made a difference when he came on in the semi-final, putting some pace on the ball and expanding the play.

But Keane's boot has been so reliable, there's little doubt that he will play a part. He has scored 90 points for his side this season and his tactical kicking has been crucial to Belvedere's form.

"But at this stage, I honestly couldn't care less whom he goes with. If he goes with Andy I am 100pc behind him. Andy is a great mate of mine and he has been our backs coach this season as well."

Irish Independent

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