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Life's looking up for Keegan

NEWLY-RELEGATED QPR will, reluctantly, bring their champagne lifestyle and insane wages to the Championship next season.

For another club who are also destined to be in England's second tier next season, it's more a case of a tray of beer from the offy than the bubbly stuff, as Doncaster Rovers – with Irish midfielder Paul Keegan very much part of their plans – have managed to guarantee promotion from League One on a very small budget.

Saturday's final round of games in that division saw Doncaster at the heart of some real drama, as their rivals for the League One title, Brentford, missed an injury-time penalty so Doncaster won the game and won the title, forcing Brentford to go through the play-offs.

As befits a humble club with a small budget, Doncaster's celebrations were low-key.

"The last game was away to Brentford, in London, so when it was over we were back on the team bus.

"We stopped off at an off-licence on the way home for a few cans and the team just celebrated with those for the journey home to Doncaster, nothing fancy," says Keegan, who joined the club from Bohemians in January 2011.


Winning promotion, and the League One crown, was a big deal for Doncaster, especially as they don't pay big wages anymore, as the club appear to have learned the mistakes of the past.

Last season, in a bid to stay in the Championship, Doncaster spent big (wildly, to be more accurate), bringing in a batch of big names on massive wages.

That's how Premier League regulars like El Hadji Diouf, Habib Beye, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Pascal Chimbonda all ended up in a relegation battle at Doncaster's Keepmoat Stadium, a battle which ended in relegation to League One but at a massive cost as Doncaster went through 41 players in their failed attempt to stay up.

"Some of that was just crazy," says Keegan. "An agent arranged to bring in those players, most of them French. It was all a plan to bring in experience to keep us up. You had one lad, Habib Beye, who basically lived in Paris while he was playing for us. He'd fly in on a Friday and train, play on a Saturday and then go back to Paris that night – it was unbelievable and we don't have that now.

"This season we didn't have a massive squad but what we did have was a really strong team ethic, a group of lads who just wanted to work hard. That's the basis of our game – if you work hard here people are happy.

"I would say we are in the bottom half of League One when it comes to wages, people like Sheffield United are paying much bigger wages than us but they're only in the play-offs and we're already up, so hard work can get you rewards."

For Keegan, now 28, next season is a chance for him to really impose himself on the Championship.

Joining the club from Bohs midway through the 2010/11 season he did well, managing 10 Championship appearances. But the following season was a write-off due to injury, the former Home Farm man playing just three times as Rovers were relegated.

This season was better, but again injury impacted on his season and Keegan's appearance as a sub in last Saturday's dramatic final-day win was his first game in eight weeks.

New deal

He's out of contract next month (only seven of the current squad are already signed up) but hopes to be able to agree on a new deal to stay on with Rovers, who also have Clontarf lad Evan Finnegan in the first-team squad.

"I have played in the Championship before so I am very keen to get back there again," Keegan says.

"Because of injury I didn't get to play much in my first full season over here in the Championship so I have a real desire to do well next season.

"I did well this season in League One so the chance to test myself in the Championship, against clubs like QPR and Reading and other big teams, is something to look forward to."

And there's still the memory of that final-day drama. "When Brentford were taking that penalty it looked like we were doomed to the play-offs, but then that happened, we won the game and won the league.

"They had two lads fighting over who would take the peno, the lad who took it hit the crossbar, we went down the other end from the rebound and scored. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff and it worked out for us."