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Keoghan's desire for that winning feeling

THEY still talk about it around Tullaroan, the point that Liam Keoghan stroked majestically between the uprights which inspired the club to a thrilling victory over Dicksboro in the Kilkenny county final at Nowlan Park four years ago.

Dicksboro were odds on to retain their title but as the game entered the final quarter Tullaroan held the narrowest of leads when Keoghan, playing at centre-back, emerged from a ruck of players before driving the ball between the posts for a magical point from some 75 yards.

That score sank 'Boro and Tullaroan were champions for the first time in 26 years. Derek Gaffney captained Tullaroan and the two things he remembers most about that score was the sight of Keoghan shaking off a couple of Dicksboro opponents and how the crowd started to roar from the moment the ball left his stick and reaching a crescendo as it sailed over the bar.

``It was the type of score which raised the hair in the back of your neck and I just knew from the moment that the ball went over the bar that it was going to be our day because everyone was just became inspired by it,'' recalled Gaffney. ``None of us on the team will ever forget that moment but equally there are guys in the club who would not be hurling now were it not for Liam and his influence on them.''

EXAGGERATIONS have been made about the length of that puck but Keoghan plays it all down. ``Things went well for me that day,'' he says. ``It was a low-scoring game. They had missed scoring chances and I just saw my opportunity and let fly. We were a point ahead and would probably have won it regardless.''

There were many heroic moments for club and county but that point remains special to the people of Tullaroan. ``I would safely say that it was the finest exhibition by a clubman I have ever seen,'' said Dick Walsh, another member of that side.

For Liam that performance made up for the nightmare which haunted him from a game a few months earlier against Tipperary in the quarter-final of the National League. He shakes his head as he recalls how Michael Cleary gave him the proverbial roasting. ``It was not that he scored that much but he set up two goals and a few points and no matter how hard I tried I just could not get on top of things.''

It's that honesty with himself and ability to confront shortcomings about his own game which has made Liam Keoghan such a vital part of the Kilkenny team for this final. His greatest critic and his closest ally is his wife, Breda, who is quick to praise but is also keen to discuss any mistakes her husband might make in a game. ``Let's say she keeps me in line, gives out to me a little at times but I like that. She knows my bad games and will try to correct things in her own quiet way. I feel that has helped me in my hurling and I'm more than happy to go along with any criticism. We all know our good games but it's always difficult to face up to the bad ones.

``I suppose there is hardly a day that you would not think about big matches and plan things in my mind. You think about your opponents, how they hit the ball; are they fast, are they tall, can they hit left and right. How they catch they ball, where they might have a weakness, what are they strong points. You never stop thinking and planning.

``It's a real motivation and deep down you are getting more and more determined to win. I hate losing. If you don't mind losing then you will never be a winner. I like to try and hold my man scoreless. That is always on my mind going out. If I had a bad game I would be disgusted with myself for training so hard and then let yourself and the team down.''

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``I was disappointed with my game against Waterford. My man scored two points. I fouled him for the free from which they scored a goal and a handpass went astray which led to another point. I can remember those as much as that day against Dicksboro.''

Then comes the fire. ``They are just reminders to me that you must be ready and sharp for every game. Since then I've been preparing myself not to allow anything like that to happen against Offaly and I can use it as a motivating factor.'' THAT determination has been evident to those who have watched the Kilkenny wing-back since he was first called into the county panel by the late Ollie Walsh back in the winter of '92. Nine months later he was part of Kilkenny's All-Ireland winning team against Galway, leapfrogging into the starting team ahead of a number of more experienced campaigners.

Keoghan was only 12 when his father brought him to the '79 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Galway and because he could not see over the heads of those in front of him on the Canal End, he sat on the ground listening to the commentary on the radio. He remembers Noel Skehan making a great save and Fan Larkin clearing the rebound. Or was it vice versa! He learned young about the ups and downs of defeat and victory. As well as success, there was the annihilation by Cork in the '88 All-Ireland U-21 final, but Keoghan has become streetwise and battle-hardened since then with a couple of Allstar awards to his name.

HE might have been a slow starter in the game but hurling was always going to be his sport. His granduncle, Jack Keoghan, won five All-Ireland medals and after emigrating to the America returned to Croke Park to play in the Tailteann Games of '24 and '28. Furthermore his grandfather and grandmother were first cousins of the renowned Lory Meagher.

Liam is happy to remain in the background and feels privileged to be part of the same team as Carey, O'Neill and Willie O'Connor. ``They are supermen but the effort that everyone puts in for the sake of the Kilkenny team is unreal. Hurling is very special in Kilkenny. There is the tradition, the skill and the real love and feel for it and there is such a pride in every club to have a representative on the county team. It's nice for me to have so many people around Tullaroan wishing me well. But it's nice for them too.''

Keoghan is under no illusions about the task which faces the Cats. ``Offaly are a good team who are coming good at the right time and that is very worrying. We beat them in the Leinster final but that was not a wonderful game and they did not hurl well. If we hurl to our ability we can win but if not we are going to be in trouble. I don't think we have hurling to our full potential yet this year.

``We played well against Dublin, were poor against Laois and lucky to beat them. We played well against Waterford for about 15 minutes but then slipped back to the old stuff again. We have to do it on the day and that's it.''

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