Friday 13 December 2019

Keane expects youthful Clare to bridge divisional gap and match his old Kildare friends stride for stride

Working in Celbridge taught Banner selector the Lilies' love of football, but now he's hoping to lower their colours

Ger Keane is still immersed in Clare football as a county selector. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Ger Keane is still immersed in Clare football as a county selector. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Cliona Foley

Ger Keane has been reminded this week how much life can take you full circle.

Back in 1999, after completing an arts degree in 'Mary I' in Limerick, he went up to Maynooth to do his H.Dip and then spent the following year teaching in Salesian College, Celbridge.

He only stayed there a year but, being a county footballer at the time, Keane was a welcome addition to a staff room that loved to talk ball.

He was part of the Clare team that had taken Cork to an extra-time replay in the 1996 Munster semi-final.

A year later he top-scored and provided the quickly taken last-gasp free that yielded Martin Daly's famous goal to oust the Rebels, one of the greatest days in Clare football history.

Fourteen years on from his stint in Celbridge, he's an English and history teacher in St Caimin's, Shannon but still immersed in Clare football as a county senior selector.

That means he'll be on the sideline in Ennis tonight, where only Kildare stand between his team and a place in the All-Ireland's last 12.

A selector with Mick O'Dwyer last year, and one of the most respected coaches in his native county, Keane is no stranger to the strength of football feeling in Kildare.

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"I loved my time up there," he enthuses. "There were some great football men in the school – Barry O'Donoghue, Paddy McGovern, Nollaig O Neachtain, Ciaran McMenamin – and there was always lots of slagging between us at the time."

The novel nature of tonight's 3B qualifier pairing – it's their first-ever championship meeting – means people have struggled in the past week to recall when these two sides last met.

Keane can remember at least three league meetings in his time as a player, twice in Newbridge and once at Cusack Park.

But it has been over a decade since they've met and they come from very different places.

Kildare were relegated from Division 1 this year, while Clare were promoted from Division 4, where they lost the league final to Tipp.

Kildare are the kings of the back-door whereas, up until last weekend's whopping defeat of Carlow, Clare hadn't won a qualifier game for eight years and have never managed to get past the fourth round. But Kilkee native Keane sees some similarities too.

"Over the last two years we've also lost some of our most experienced players," he says of the retirement of stalwarts like David Russell, Alan Clohessey, Mike O'Shea and Ger Quinlan.

Like Kildare, the Banner also have a good seam of youth talent coming through.

Martin O'Leary, Jamie Malone and Eoin Cleary are all still U-21 and have brought freshness to a team that already has great skill and leadership in Ger Brennan, David Tubridy, Gordon Kelly, Rory Donnelly and Shane McGrath.

The additional bonus of getting dual stars Podge and Sean Collins involved this year has definitely helped them get an unprecedented five championship games which included beating Waterford in a replay and giving Kerry a decent test.

Team manager Colm Collins is originally from Kilmihil but now settled in Cratloe, which explains why his sons and the club have a new football wing.

Keane has worked alongside Collins on Clare underage teams "all the way up from U-16" so they're on the same wavelength.

At school he is still immersed in GAA as the staff at St Caimin's also includes Clare hurling trainer Paul Kinnerk, Alan Cunningham (Aaron's father) and former Cork football selector Dave Loughman.

With the hurlers' shock exit a week ago they're hoping all Banner supporters will get behind them tonight.

"Getting to the (Division 4) league final this year and playing Kerry in the (Cusack) Park meant that we've been getting a lot of big games so we've built up some momentum," Keane observes.

"We're coming from Division 4 and Kildare from Division 1 so I know people will say there's a big gap there.

"But we'd like to feel we have more in us still and hopefully we'll up the pace again and match them."

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