Monday 19 March 2018

Keenan proving a giant among wee men

Paddy Keenan has emerged as a force at the heart of Louth's impressive season
Paddy Keenan has emerged as a force at the heart of Louth's impressive season

In the fog of chaos, hysteria and recrimination prompted by the bizarre conclusion to the Leinster football final last week, a few moments were too easily lost.

On the Meath side there was the catch made by Seamus Kenny, one of the smallest players on the field, to begin those frantic few seconds around the goalmouth and, of course, Joe Sheridan's diligence to pounce on a ball spilled from Louth control.

In between there was Paddy Keenan's block on Kenny to deny a certain goal, which, ordinarily, if the rules had been applied properly in the immediate aftermath, would have preserved Louth's hold on the Delaney Cup.

What value on Keenan's bravery then? It's hard to remember a more dramatic and courageous block executed at Croke Park since Conor Gormley thwarted Stevie McDonnell in the latter stages of the 2003 All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Armagh, or prior to that when Mick Lyons thwarted Jimmy Kerrigan in the first half of the 1987 All-Ireland final against Cork.

That Keenan had the presence of mind to be on his own goal line at such a critical juncture of the game illustrates former Louth manager Paddy Clarke's point that there is scarcely a more balanced midfielder in the game at present than the 26-year-old from Lordship, just a few miles out of Dundalk on the Cooley Peninsula.

Significantly, when 'The Sunday Game' team sat down to pick their team of the championship so far, Keenan was paired with Limerick's John Galvin. No arguments in anyone else's favour could be made with any great conviction.

There are a few better fielders of a ball, there are a few who will score more and have greater engine capacity, but tick all the boxes and Keenan's consistency will be a factor.

"He does everything well. I feel he's a cut above anything else we have right now," says Clarke. "Midfielders these days remind me of second-row forwards in rugby. Their principal aim is to get primary possession from kick-outs and offload it. There was a time when the average height of a midfielder was 6'1" or 6'2". If you're not 6'5" or 6'6" you're out of your depth. But Paddy is a throw-back to an older style of midfielder."

Keenan is just a little over six feet tall but packs a far bigger punch aerially than his height suggests, even if his returns from kick-outs in the Leinster final were lower than his average. With Brian White, from neighbouring club Cooley Kickhams, they have forged quite a partnership for Louth this summer.

It struggled for large parts of the first half against Meath, but recovered well after the break, with strong auxiliary support from their half-backs giving Louth a platform for probable victory.

That's been the modus operandi throughout the season for Louth and on the evening of their landmark success against Kildare in Navan, they enjoyed so much dominance that Kieran McGeeney had to press the previously injured Dermot Earley into action much earlier than anticipated to try and stem the tide.

"I'd say the best thing that has happened Paddy is becoming an adult player and getting away from underage, where he was being pulled and dragged in every different direction," says Clarke.

The Leinster final was his 83rd appearance for Louth in all competitions, from O'Byrne Cup to league and championship, and Clarke reckons if he plays as long again he'll beat Stephen Melia's all-time record of 179 appearances for his county.

"Stephen went on with Louth until he was almost 40. If Paddy goes to 33 or 34 he'll go close to passing him," figures Clarke.

In those 83 appearances, he has amassed 7-73 from play, underlining his propensity for attacking football. Recently, Keenan reflected on his eight years with Louth -- he made his debut in the O'Byrne Cup against Westmeath in January 2003 -- recalling that he had never played on a Louth team that didn't have attacking ambition.

Paddy Carr, the Louth manager who introduced him, would concur. "Even in his first year on the team Paddy's instinct was to attack. That's his style," he says.

He grew in stature in Val Andrews' two years and Eamonn McEneaney's four, winning a Division 2 league title in 2006 and then following up with Tommy Murphy and O'Byrne Cup successes in more recent years.

Keenan has already received an All Star nomination in 2007, when he was one of the six midfielders on the shortlist. His arrival as a player of real quality has coincided with the rise and rise of his club, St Patrick's, as one of the major forces in the county over the last decade.

He was just turning 19 when, under the stewardship of the current Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick, the club landed their first title in 2003 and added back-to-back titles 12 months later when the former Down footballer 'Shorty' Treanor was added to the ticket. Three years ago, he added a third county title and once again it was hard to look beyond his influence.


His dedication to St Patrick's is well documented in that part of the county. On the Sunday morning before the Leinster final, with no Louth training session scheduled, he ambled down to the club and took part in a training session there. He has been known to venture down to the same pitch on Christmas mornings to hone his skills.

It was Keenan who gave the first indication on the Tuesday after the Leinster final that Louth were ready to move on, posing the question, in rhetorical fashion, as to what his own Louth team might do if placed in the same unenviable position as their Meath counterparts. For him, it was time to move on.

In the 30 years since the inception of the All Stars scheme, Louth are one of only three counties (Carlow and Longford are the other two) not to win an award in either hurling or football. If they are the get off the mark this year, Paddy Keenan has put himself in the strongest position of all.

Irish Independent

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