From being touted as next Roy Keane to overweight allegations and the League of Ireland scrapheap - the Michael Keane story
How advice from David Moyes helped get his life back on track
In a series of interviews over the next six weeks, Independent.ie will bring you stories from a number of players to have experienced the whirlwind of football, the highs and lows, and where their career eventually took them, inside or outside of the game. First up is former Preston North End and St Pat's man Michael Keane.
“He will go a long way in the game. Another Roy Keane? I hope so.”
Those were the prophetic words expressed by then Preston North End manager David Moyes after Michael Keane scored on his full debut against Wimbledon in August 2001.
Seven years later and Keane was back in Dublin, reeling from his sacking by St Patrick’s Athletic. He was 25 years old and has never kicked a ball professionally since.
Gone was the exuberant personality so evident during his time at Preston, sufficient for Moyes to not only trust a teenage Keane on the pitch but off it by assigning him the role as babysitter to his two kids.
The Michael Keane who sat on his sofa cradling his head in his hands during July 2008 was unrecognisable to the figure Preston fans came to cherish as their future.
St Patrick’s Athletic hadn’t just discarded him; they’d placed an indelible stain on his character.
Keane became the first player ever to be dismissed by an Irish club for allegedly being overweight.
Had the punishment and crime matched, then he’d have taken the dose and moved on. But that wasn’t the case.
Keane has been wronged and, although the damage to his career was ultimately irreparable, he felt an onus existed to himself and his young family to at least salvage his reputation.
And so the ugly side of the game Keane had succeeded in dodging throughout his seven years in the profession was foisted upon him.
Claims, legal representation, medical evidence and tribunals became part of the everyday dialect to those around him.
Rather than spending his days on the training pitch, Keane was stuck at home consumed with mounting a case against his sacking. Dark days descended but they were nonetheless necessary given the circumstances.
He had, after all, featured in just two games that season, both from the bench.
What had started the previous campaign with a central role in the Saints midfield, evidenced by him playing 13 of their remaining 17 matches after he joined, diminished into the status of an outsider.
As one of the club’s highest earners, on €3,200 per week, Keane knew he was rife to be offloaded. Still, when the club began to cite his physical condition as justification for pushing him further towards the exit door, the player stood his ground.
Keane’s resistance was met with humiliation tactics. During the squad’s training sessions at their Celbridge base, he was directed to referee the five-a-side games as well as assume ball-boy duties behind the goal.
“St Patrick’s Athletic did everything to break me,” Keane explains. “It was a horrible time in my life, before and after they sacked me, but I was determined to clear my name.”
That he did was aplomb; the FAI’s three-man Dispute Resolution Chamber finding in his favour three months on from his dismissal and a six-figure settlement reached to compensate Keane for the 18 months remaining on his contract.
Assimilating back into football proved difficult, as he was unable to join a club during the ongoing case, and even afterwards the perception created by the episode at Inchicore turned most managers off him.
Not one to wallow, Keane embarked on a coaching career he continues to thrive in today as boss of AUL side Dingle United, while he looked to the insurance business for an outlet to provide for his family.
“I applied for an internship position with AXA insurance, aware that I’d no qualifications and was competing against candidates with lots of experience,” he explains.
“When it came to the final part of the three-stage interview process, I told the panel straight out that I still operate to the principles David Moyes taught me at Preston.
“I’d work hard, apply myself and, above all, be a team player. They must have liked me because I was offered a permanent position and still work there.”
He added: “For any player fearful about life after football, I’m an example of how that doesn’t have to be the case. I bounced back after leaving Preston North End and again when St Pat’s let me go.
“There will be challenges along the way but once you keep headstrong and don’t let anyone put you down, things can work out.
“The one major piece of advice I’d give any youngster coming into professional football is to invest in a pension scheme. Again, David Moyes was the one to tell me that when I was 17 and it was the best guidance I ever got.
“Football is a great job but it doesn’t last forever. In my case, it finished much earlier than I’d planned.”