Cup final offers ambitious City slicker Keohane chance to kick on in career
Jimmy Keohane and manager John Caulfield are agreed about one thing - the Cork City fans haven't seen the best of the midfielder they signed from Sligo Rovers last year.
The 26-year-old from Jenkinstown, Co Kilkenny, made a flying start with his contribution to Cork's league win, but admits that he can do better. Part of the problem lies with being a victim of his own versatility, as he lined out at full-back and on the wing, apart from his preferred play-maker role.
"As a player, I'm more creator than destroyer," he explained. "My game is based on passing and movement and high energy, and when I get on the ball I can make things happen. I have always been that way. I have never been a physical player, I like to take players on. I prefer that to the tackling side of the game."
After signing a one-year extension, he hopes to prove his point next year, admitting that his goals return "hasn't been overly high the last couple of seasons, but it could have been more but for playing at full-back." The irony of that remark is that one of the three goals he scored this year features in RTÉ's Soccer Republic Goals of the Season - and was scored while operating at full-back. What's more, the right-footer curved the ball delightfully around Bray goalkeeper Peter Cherrie with his left foot.
For that, he gives credit to his late grandfather. "When I first started playing football, my grandad insisted on me kicking with both feet, and that has worked out for me in the long run, so that I feel comfortable on my left."
Seven senior clubs in the last nine years takes some explaining, but Keohane deflects the credit to his "good friend and agent Pat Dolan. After playing for Wexford Youths, Mick Wallace asked Pat to look after me, and he's been doing that the whole time I was in England and since I came home."
While at Wexford, Keohane was capped at under 19 level by Sean McCaffrey, and it was that experience which persuaded him to opt for a career in professional football. "In the qualifiers, I came off the bench against San Marino and scored, and then I started against Italy, and that was an eye-opener because I hadn't experienced that level of opposition. Then I played all three games at the elite stage: against England, Ukraine and Bosnia, and I realised then that was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed it and it was the step up I wanted to make. I was an amateur with Wexford, now I wanted to be professional."
Dolan sent Keohane and Pat Hoban to Bristol City, but it wasn't until he moved to Exeter City that Keohane tasted first-team football, enjoying four years under Paul Tisdale, the second longest-serving manager in England after Arsene Wenger.
"All managers have their own quirks and how they want their team to play," Keohane said, "and the way Tisdale looks at the game is all about passing and movement, which is similar to what I played at Belvedere. I came home to Sligo Rovers, where Dave Robertson had a similar philosophy, and now John Caulfield, who may be more direct, but wants us to play and knows we can play, with high intensity. John is also a great motivator.
"Every manager I've worked under has had a positive effect on me, constantly improving my game. Exeter did a lot for me, likewise back in Ireland at Sligo, and in Cork my game has come on a lot again. I was one of a number of players brought in to win the League, and I feel I have contributed to that. The way we played at the start of the season, with intensity, and creating chances all the time, and scoring goals, not only from Seanie (Maguire) but from different players, showed that we worked hard as a unit.
"We had a dip in form after Seanie and Kevin O'Connor left and we had to adjust. We weren't as fluid as before, but we ground out the results when we needed them. Our last game against Dundalk was one of our better games, but it is one of those games where you don't have to be told you have to be up for it, and we have had an edge over them this season."
Pointing out that, as English clubs have greater resources and higher fan bases, it's hard to make comparisons with our clubs, he still believes that there are three or four clubs here that would hold their own in the EFL.
"The League here is more professional in recent years, as Dundalk proved in Europe, and we're competing with them, so there are players here who can have great careers in England. The team that beat Wales was also notable for the number of ex-League of Ireland players, which is also testament to the League's quality.
"Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers are big clubs with big potential, while Cork have a massive following. The whole city gets behind the club. For example, we had over 1,700 at an open training session last Sunday and the atmosphere in Turner's Cross has been great all season. I just hope they can do the same on Sunday in the Aviva."
While admitting to being laid back off the pitch, Keohane says that when it comes to football he's, "quite ambitious. I have had a good career and there are still places I'd like to go."
In the latter respect, he pinpoints last year's Europa League games against Larnaca as his benchmark. "They kept the ball so well," he explained. "It was better than anything we had experienced in the League of Ireland. Every player wants to compete at the highest level, and Larnaca were at the level we'd all aspire to."
With Champions League football to look forward to next summer, he can expect to be tested again by some of Europe's best, but before that, there is today's FAI Cup final against old rivals Dundalk. As rivalries go, this has been as good as it gets over the past four years, with Dundalk in the ascendancy for three of those years and Cork taking over this year.
This is also the third year in a row for these teams to contest the final, and it's one apiece so far, with each team having to go to extra time to eke out a winning goal. The goalscorers in each case - Richie Towell in 2015 and Seanie Maguire last year - have since departed for England, so a new hero is required to separate these sides.
On form, Dundalk appear to have the more likely candidates - cue any one from Pat McEleney, Dave McMillan, Jamie McGrath, Dylan Connolly, Robbie Benson or Michael Duffy, and the list is not exhausted. Cork's goals, since the departure of Maguire, have been few and far between, a total of 10 in 12 League games with only Gary Buckley and Kieran Sadlier scoring more than once.
Defensively, they are well matched, with neither side giving much away, so this could be another extra time decider or even go to a shoot-out, unless it is one of those Cup finals where one of the less heralded players, a Sean Gannon or a Jimmy Keohane, gets lucky and breaks the deadlock.
Whatever the outcome, it promises to be a great contest.
Cork City v Dundalk
RTE 2, 3.30
Sunday Indo Sport