Visualising two sweet results
Sligo's Alan Keane has dreams of Cup glory – and a new contract, writes Marie Crowe
There have been plenty of big games in Sligo Rovers' recent past. Cup finals, top-of-the-table clashes and European encounters, it's been a busy time for the club. And in the lead-up to all these significant occasions there has been one consistent factor – veteran defender Alan Keane's pre-match routine.
And today, before the FAI Ford Cup final against Drogheda kicks off, he will do what he always does. Keane likes to get as much sleep as he can on game day, he'll always eat a decent meal and, strangely enough, he'll have a few sweets at some stage during the day.
"I'll eat a few Wham bars," explained Keane. "And I've been known to eat a whole packet of chocolate biscuits, I've an awful sweet tooth. Every player is different and that just works for me."
Keane is also a fan of visualisation. The night before a big game he goes over different plays and possibilities in his mind. It's a technique that was introduced to him by a sports psychologist he met while playing for Galway United and, once again, it works for him.
"I like to visualise scenarios in the game. Like if the ball comes into my position, I'll imagine just taking a touch and moving it. Or if it comes to me at the edge of the square, I just visualise taking a shot and watching it go into the back of the net and I'll celebrate. It helps with my nerves."
He does the same with penalties, always deciding in advance where he's going to aim for. In the 2010 season he scored six from six but when he stepped up to the spot in the Cup final against Shamrock Rovers, it all went horribly wrong.
"I was knackered after the extra-time and I just blasted it. I was devastated, but the following year I got a chance to make up for it against Shelbourne. I remember walking up to take it and seeing the same crowd were behind the goals.
"I knew exactly where I was going to put it, I'd visualised it the night before. I like the high-pressure situations, having a chance to get your team back into the game or even win the game for them. I get a bit nervous but if you are big enough to take it you have to be able to deal with the nerves."
When Keane first signed for Sligo in 2009, the club fought relegation and lost the Cup final to Sporting Fingal. But after that first tough season things changed and now, just four years later, he has won two FAI Cups, a League and a League Cup.
"After the Cup loss in 2009 we experienced a lot of hurt, but we kept most of our players again the following year and that helped. Also, I think we have a good group of lads who gel well together and that played a role in it too.
"Sligo is a small town with a good group of supporters and a close-knit community. Everyone gets involved and that is the way it is with the players too, we all go for dinner and things like that."
Keane is originally from Abbeyknockmoy in Galway so he is not too far from home. He's very settled in Sligo and would like to stay. However, as soon as the final whistle blows this evening he's out of contract, and like many of his team-mates, he'll be in the dole queue in just a couple of days.
"It's frustrating for lads who have been here for a good few years, like myself. I have given Sligo all I could give and hopefully I'll give them more. It's frustrating that they (Sligo) leave it until the last minute.
"They know what they are getting off you. I'm here five years now, a bit of loyalty both ways would be nice.
"I know clubs have to worry about budgets but they know now coming to the end of the season what their budget will be. If you look at Dundalk, they signed up almost all of their players already and it's great news for them. They reward the guys for the effort they put in during the year.
"It's in a cycle now and it's almost the norm to leave players out of contract. It's like the clubs think, 'Sure where else are they going to go?'
"They have the power at the minute while years ago it used to be the players. The clubs know that there are only two or three teams who will pay money. It's hard to expect players to come back after not being looked after in the off-season."
The Sligo Rovers manager Ian Baraclough is in the same situation as his players, he hasn't been offered a new contract either. Keane feels that this isn't helping the players' position. He hopes he will be signed up again soon but is disappointed that it is being left until the last minute.
"If we win the Cup final he could be gone elsewhere and that makes for another off-season of uncertainty. I'd like to see him back, he's brought success to the club. The League hadn't been won in 35 years and he came in last year in his first season and he won that."
However, when a team experiences success the expectation of the supporters rises. They want to reach the highs of the previous season but it's much tougher second time round.
Champions are more often than not the team everyone wants to beat and Sligo found that out this season.
"There is a lot of focus on the players and people are very critical. They think that just because you have won the League that you don't want to win another one or you won't try as hard to win. But as a player you want to win as much as you can, you don't enter a competition to lose."
Keane is originally from a GAA community where he played both hurling and football up until he was 16. He would love to play either code in the off-season and when he retires he might pick up where he left off as a teenager.
As a sportsperson and a Galway man, he was saddened to hear of the death of Niall Donohue and believes that football clubs need to work on their mental health services.
"There are definitely issues in football and it is one of those things that people are nearly embarrassed to come out and talk about how they are feeling.
"If you are playing sport and on a team, you don't want to be the one with a problem.
"I think clubs should look into getting someone in to talk about options that are there for people. If someone came to me and asked for help I wouldn't know where to send them or I wouldn't know where to go myself if I had an issue."