Wednesday 21 August 2019

Ex-Limerick star savours simple things after conquering demons

‘I had too many distractions and didn’t fulfil my potential’ admits Mark Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
‘I had too many distractions and didn’t fulfil my potential’ admits Mark Keane. Photo: Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

The last time Limerick made an All-Ireland final in 2007, Mark Keane was close to his lowest point.

Five years had passed since he finished a scarcely believable three years at U-21 with a hat-trick of winners' medals and a personal haul of 9-100 in 15 games.

Limerick fans couldn't help but fall in love with such an astronomical total but the man behind the numbers wasn't as easy to understand.

At U-21 he out-duelled Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett in back-to-back years but as the precocious Premier County duo brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup back to Tipp, Keane was heading in the other direction.

By the time of that surprise showpiece appearance, Keane had let his off-field struggles with alcohol bury his once promising career in an unmarked grave.

Nobody knew what happened to his talent. Only Mark Keane could say where it was and he was reluctant to divulge its location.

"If I'm being really honest now, I didn't think drink was my problem," Keane says.

Understand

"I thought it was them. I thought they didn't understand me. That I was a young man who was the same as everyone else, but I wasn't because they were getting up and going to work.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

"They weren't missing things that they should have been at. I thought that they were only bringing it up because I was a hurler.

"I was a product of the early 2000s, the boom, money everywhere. I'm an electrician and I was earning more back then than I am now. There was so much going on and there was stuff every weekend. I had too many distractions and didn't fulfil my potential."

Perhaps U-21 titles aren't meant to be won in threes. Expectation has hung over Clare this decade like a 'Looney Tunes' anvil waiting to drop the moment disappointment appears on the horizon - and they've an All-Ireland banked already.

For the 2000-2002 Limerick side, the let-down was even more acute.

Keane recognises that he is to blame for his own situation, but as a collective that Treaty treble has now become shorthand for describing how a strong underage crop doesn't always lead to a rich senior harvest.

"I thought because I was winning U-21 All-Irelands, I was just going to go on to senior and do it because we were going to be meeting the same players," he said.

"Three years after we won the All-Ireland, you see Ronan Curran - a fella I hurled against successfully - going up and winning a senior All-Ireland with Cork. Eoin Kelly in 2001. They were winning seniors but we were beating them at U-21. We were able to beat these players so we thought that there was going to be a natural progression."

Keane only made 10 senior championship appearances for Limerick, most of them off the bench. After a few years in the wilderness he did have a brief flirtation with fulfilling his considerable potential in 2006.

After going over a year without a sip of alcohol, Keane rediscovered his scoring touch in the league, racking up 4-50 in seven games - including 2-10 against Clare in a semi-final victory.

Those heroics came at a cost though, with injury ruling him out of a final appearance.

Having come so close to putting it all together, Keane reacted badly to seeing his inter-county chance slip past his fingertips.

"I had given up the drink and was flying it in the league in '06 before the injury," he said.

"I was feeling sorry for myself and came back for the first round of the championship and played injured and the head went after that. I wound up that day looking over a bar counter when I shouldn't have been and the whole thing spiralled out of control then."

It wasn't until 2011 that Keane was able to make a change to his life that has lasted until this day.

There were no fireworks or one massive moment of clarity. Real life can be much more understated sometimes.

"One night I just said, 'I'll drive to the pub tonight and won't drink'," he says. "That led to two weeks and then three weeks and now it has been seven years."

The days of almost single-handedly shredding teams are long gone, but so is watching Limerick with thoughts of regrets and what-ifs.

He takes joy in the simple things in life now: his wife, his kids, his job and this Sunday, if he and his county are lucky - finally watching Limerick win a senior All-Ireland.

"I'd put this down as my biggest achievement - that I can give my wife and kids a life," he says.

"I was never so proud than collecting my daughter's Leaving Cert results with her. Simple, mundane things like going home and seeing food in the fridge.

"Being able to walk into a bank and say 'I want to pay this bill' and the money is there. They are nearly daily achievements for me now.

"It's the first time that I can say I can watch Limerick and be totally selfless, where I'm not thinking about myself or what might have been. I'm just thinking of those lads who will take the field and what they can do. I'd be the proudest man in Limerick if they win on Sunday."

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: Tipp throw off the shackles while Kilkenny’s soul-searching begins

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport