Monday 16 September 2019

No 10 waiting for chance to prove he can still lead the charge

He accepts his time as a player is running out but experienced out-half is already thinking about life as a coach, writes Daragh Small

Back in the groove: Ian Keatley, Jeremy Loughman and Chris Cloete share a joke on the way to training. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Back in the groove: Ian Keatley, Jeremy Loughman and Chris Cloete share a joke on the way to training. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Daragh Small

A 1998 wine-coloured Nissan Micra was often stuck in traffic for one-and-a-half hours as it made its daily commute between Sutton and UCD but 256 professional rugby appearances later, it's all been worth it.

Ian Keatley is now the third oldest player in the Munster squad and he remembers the days when he would have given anything to play just one provincial game.

The 31-year-old out-half has since gone through the ranks at Leinster, Connacht and Munster, and has also worn the Irish jersey seven occasions. He has had at least 10 senior head coaches along the way too.

"When I first started playing rugby I was in college doing Arts in UCD. My biggest thing was I wanted to become a professional rugby player," said Keatley.

"Some people are able to tackle two things at once. I was travelling over from Sutton to UCD every day. So I was making sure that when I was going over to UCD that I was studying but I was doing everything I could to become a professional rugby player as well.

"I told my mom that if I gave the academy a good shot and did everything, it's like doing a three-year course in college, and you get a job out of it. It's the same as what you do in college.

"I said if I could just concentrate on the rugby and try and get a job out of it and if it didn't work out I could go back to college. I convinced my mother somehow to let me play on with the rugby.

"I have no regrets and I am delighted with the way my career has gone from then from Leinster to Connacht to Munster. Now I am getting ready for my post-rugby career whether that is next year or a few years down the road."

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Keatley has not started a game for Munster since their Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 on April 22.

Joey Carbery's arrival has diluted the available minutes even further in a position that was already brimming with talent.

Keatley now has to compete with Ireland's second-choice fly-half for the Munster No 10 shirt, along with the returning Tyler Bleyendaal, JJ Hanrahan and Bill Johnston.

Quality

"Joey is a quality player. When you are in a team like Munster you are always going to have top-quality players. That is what we want, we want good strength in depth," said Keatley.

"It's been frustrating, I haven't got that much game time. But that's part and parcel of professional rugby. I am welcome to the challenge and I just need to keep my head down and work hard.

"When I do get the chance I have to take it. I am still enjoying the company of the lads, I want to help my fellow team-mates get better and working day in, day out for that.

"You have little chats with the coaches. I have been told that hopefully I will get a chance but you never know in this sport. We will just see what happens. At the end of the day I am training hard, making sure that if I do get a chance I am ready.

"I have only had a few 20-minute cameos. Against Ospreys and Ulster it went pretty well. Even when we were losing against Cheetahs and Glasgow I felt I came on and helped turn the tide in those matches. That's all I can do, put my hand up that way.

"Hopefully I will get a chance to put my own stamp on a match. If not, that's fine. I will just keep my head down and keep working hard. You need to be ready for your chance; sometimes it will come and sometimes it doesn't."

But Keatley knows that even if he does get an extended run in the Munster team this year he will need to start preparing for life after the game.

He is considering a career in coaching when he eventually hangs up the boots, having got experience with Young Munster before the birth of his daughter put that on hold.

Keatley saw the bigger picture again and put partner, Lisa, and baby, Beth, first but he recognises the importance of having a career to fall back on for the future.

"I am the third oldest in the squad after Billy Holland and Duncan Williams. I am nearly at the 180-cap mark for Munster which isn't bad.

"If you add my 70-odd caps with Connacht I have racked up around 250 caps in my career which is quite a lot," said Keatley.

"The lads are calling me the old man now but I am enjoying it. That is part and parcel of your career. You start off as a young buck coming through and all of a sudden you are one of the old lads. You look back and think when did all of that happen?

"That's rugby and I am coming to terms with it. I am just trying to make sure I am still enjoying my rugby. That's the main thing really.

"There are so many ups and downs. At the end of the day if you are not enjoying something you shouldn't be doing it. I am not playing so if I wasn't enjoying it I wouldn't want to be here.

"I make sure I come in here with a positive attitude every day and just enjoy myself, enjoy the camaraderie with the lads."

Experience

Keatley has plenty of experience on the pitch, having made his league and European debut in 2008-09, however he is preparing to dip his toes into something different.

"I am doing my coaching badges at the moment. I have done my Level 3 and am nearly finished my Level 4 now. I just have to be assessed to get that. Then I will be looking to educate myself and up-skill in the coaching department," said Keatley.

"Everyone could be a coach but it's about trying to get your message across to the player. Every player learns differently, the biggest thing with coaching is how you are getting your point across to the players.

"Everyone takes something in differently. I have a good way of getting my message across to players, you are more of a teacher than a coach."

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