Former Louth captain Paddy Keenan receives his All-Star Award in 2010 after a stellar year of performances.
Straight into it, Paddy – 2010. This is the 10th anniversary of THAT final. Your thoughts?
To be honest, I don’t think that much of it these days. The only time that it comes back to memory is when it pops up on my social media, or somebody sends me a video or picture from that day. I actually mentioned to Karen the other day that I don’t have one picture, video or any other records from that whole championship. It’s hard to think that this was before smartphones etc came into popularity, so maybe that’s the reason; I never had anything to really look back on to stir up the memories.
What had you hoped for as the debate raged in its aftermath?
Initially, we had hoped, and probably half expected, that there would be a replay. However, things just seemed to drag on and go around in circles. At the same time, it was getting closer to the qualifiers and I remember talking to some of the more senior lads in the team around that time about continuing to push for a re-fixture. I had been to a few meetings and heard reports back from various appeals etc, and it just seemed to be going nowhere. I felt that we needed to avoid the distractions and get on with playing the next game as it was next to impossible to prepare properly, so the appeals ended up fizzling out. In hindsight, maybe we should have stuck it out a bit longer and created more of a problem for the GAA - it was just a difficult position for the players to be in as, ultimately, the decision rested with us whether to continue to appeal or try and get on with the rest of the season.
Leinster Council’s handling of the situation?
Sheamus Howlin (RIP), who was Leinster chairman at the time, called me one day and we arranged to meet in Dooley’s in Edmondstown for lunch. He expressed his disappointment over the way the game ended and that he would support Louth in whatever decision we came to regarding an appeal. From an administration point of view, I remember him explaining some of the bye-laws around the situation; if I remember correctly, Leinster’s hands were tied as they needed a directive from Croke Park in the absence of Meath offering a re-fixture. Sheamus remained close for many years after and I had great respect for him as he didn’t need to meet me directly on the situation.
And Croke Park’s?
At the time, I didn’t get too caught up in the bureaucracy of the situation because, as I said, we were still in the middle of the season and we had to try and salvage something out of it. However, as time goes on, I do feel they took the easy option by not making a stand and ordering a re-fixture. If the same thing happened to Dublin, Cork, Kerry or Tyrone, I really doubt it would have been brushed under the carpet. With the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think many GAA people would have argued with the GAA had they decided a re-fixture was the right thing to do.
Would you have wanted Meath to offer a re-fixture?
It was probably unfair to place responsibility on the Meath players. After all, many of them had never won a Leinster either and I can imagine what Louth players would have said had the shoe been on the other foot! To me, the decision needed to come from outside both playing groups and it was a huge shortcoming on the part of the GAA administration that they didn’t sort it out. They had precedent too from 1998 with Clare and Offaly, so surely something could have been done.
How much was the situation aggravated by the protesting Louth supporters?
It probably didn’t help the case in general, but, again, if you look at Clare/Offaly in ’98, the fans stayed on the pitch in protest for over an hour after the final whistle and Offaly ultimately got a re-fixture so, again, precedent was there to an extent. I just think it was a case of a smaller county getting screwed over, so it didn’t really matter to the GAA.
Did you see your All-Star Award as compensation?
Not really; I would easily give up the All-Star in lieu of the Leinster. Some people have said to me that the way the Leinster final finished was the only reason I got the All-Star, but I’d like to think my actual performances in the games were good enough to win it.
Let’s wind the clock back even further. When did you make your Louth debut?
My first ever game was actually a week after the 2002 All-Ireland, versus Armagh in the GOAL charity match in Crossmaglen. I was still only 17 and in awe of the Armagh men at that time. They were huge around Dundalk and the Cooley Peninsula and I had actually attended the semi-final against Dublin that year, too, so to be on the same field as McGeeney, McGrane, McConville, McDonnell etc, in front of probably 10,000+, was brilliant. My first competitive game was against Westmeath in the O’Byrne Cup in terrible conditions.
And your first championship match?
Wicklow in Croke Park, 2003. I played terribly, was taken off and lost my starting place for the Dublin match so the less said about that the better!
And the game you remember most?
There are a few. The first game against Tyrone in 2006; just a great game and an excellent Louth performance. There was a load of players that day like JP, Jamie Carr, Stanno, Mark Brennan, John Neary and Darren Clarke that were all brilliant. And then you had Brian White and Ray Finnegan coming into that team for the first time really and showing their class. The Leinster semi and league final against Westmeath in 2010 and 2011 were also great performances. Putting in a performance like that in Croke Park is always sweet. In 2007, the Kildare game in Newbridge and Cork the following week in Portlaoise was also a great time. We really had a strong team at that time and if we had to have beaten Cork, who knows where we might have ended up. Cork beat Sligo and then Meath in the semi to make the final that year. Another memorable one nobody probably remembers is Waterford in 2011; last game of the league. We struggled to beat them and other results went our way to qualify for the final. I think that happening the year after the Leinster final made it more memorable as it felt luck was on our side for once.
The best player you played against?
Fergal Doherty, in a league game in Derry, just tormented me and Ronan Carroll in the middle. His physicality for kick-outs was something not too many players had. Seán Cavanagh was obviously an excellent player and you could see the ground he covered even during the games when we played Tyrone. Myself and John Heslin from Westmeath always had good battles against each other. I think he scored five points off me in the championship in 2012, when we snuck past them with a late Danny O’Connor goal. At club level, Mark Brennan, from Mattock, was very tough to play against. He was very talented and so unpredictable, so you had to be on your game against him.
And the best managers you played under?
There are too many to name to be honest. Eamonn McEneaney was the first time I’d played under a manager who brought a new kind of professionalism and dedication to the game. His entire backroom team was excellent too, with Stephen Melia, Seamus O’Hanlon, Pat Mulligan and John Pepper all involved. I felt I really progressed as a player under these men. It was just a pity we, as players, just couldn’t seem to get over the line in the championship as we really were very good then. Fitzer was a different kind of manager; the team was generally ‘looser’ and a lot of lads just played with abandon when he came in and we got going in 2010. Fergal Reel with the Pat’s was just brilliant and not one player from that period would deny the impact he had with us. We had a very good team when he came in, but lost two semis in a row to an excellent Mattock team in ’09 and ’10. He worked us unbelievably hard and made sure everybody in the panel bought into his ideas which, in fairness, we did. I’ve never been involved in a team that was so close and worked as hard for each other as that group. He always found a new way to motivate us and make us lift our game no matter who we played. At times during that period, we had games won before we left the dressing room we were in such good form. Again, he had a great backroom team with Jim Holland and John Noonan.
Who would you want on your side if there was a row?
Baby Goss - you wouldn’t need anyone else! I was lucky to play with him in midfield for a spell and he took (and gave) all the knocks while I was just allowed to go forward without worrying what was behind me.
And speaking of rows, were you ever red-carded?
A few times.... I actually nearly missed the Pats’ Leinster Championship game against St. Brigid’s from Dublin in 2003 as I got sent-off for DIT against Trinity the week before. Luckily enough, there was a rule change just after being brought in where you only got suspended in the grade in which you picked up the card. I got sent-off twice for Louth, both for two yellow cards, against Tyrone and Sligo in the league. I missed a quarter-final in the Louth championship in ’08 as I got sent-off against the O’Mahony’s in the last group game. I actually received a box and didn’t even get a clip back! My appeal on the morning of the quarter-final failed and we ended up losing to the Bride’s in the Clans.
Could you have envisaged your club career being as rewarding as it was?
Before 2011, I don’t think any of us would have expected to have won four out of the next five, but, at the end of that era, we had come to expect to win every year. Seán Connor always used to bring up Fitzer saying to us “come back to me when you have won five” in 2007, and in a way, it kind of motivated us. As a group, those teams were very committed and worked very hard. I think we fully deserved each championship we won, but, certainly, none of us set out with the plan to win so many. Actually, I reckon we should have at least two more; in 2006, we just didn’t give the Joe’s the respect they deserved in the final and were beaten fair and square; in ’09, Mattock sucker-punched us in the last two or three minutes in the semi before beating Cooley in the final. Even in 2013, we were going for the three-in-a-row and were up, I think, 1-5 to 0-1 or something, against the Blues after 20 minutes in the semi. Then we had a man sent-off and we fell apart. Sometimes, I think you get more annoyed about the ones that you missed out on than the enjoyment you get out of winning one.
Seven championships in 13 years – which one stands out?
You can’t ever forget the first. 2003 almost seems surreal now because the celebrations were something the community hadn’t seen before or since. It was absolute bedlam for about three weeks after the final. The likes of the two Hollands, Darren Kirwan, Johnny Keenan, Pat Devane and Seán White had suffered for a long time with no championship success so there was a huge sense of relief for those men. There were four of us who started that were only 18/19 at the time, so we probably didn’t fully appreciate that at the time. I still remember on the field after the final whistle being hugged by John White (Sean’s father) and Adrian Donohoe and both with tears in their eyes; it really hit home how big it was to the club. When you think of the people the club has lost since that time, it’s nice to remember them in that moment. I’d love to watch the replay again; the drawn game is on YouTube but we all played pretty poorly that day and the football was brutal! From recollection, we were a lot better the second day. The 2011 win was also a memorable one. It was effectively a new Pat’s team with a few young players and Reel coming in after losing two semis in a row. We had Karl White and Seán Connor break ankles in the Sheelan Cup final that year before coming back and it took us a replay to beat both Mattock in the semi and then the Blues in the final, so we had to overcome a good few difficulties before breaking through with that team.
Aside from their first venture, Pat’s never made an impact in Leinster?
Myself and Owenie Zamboglou have spoken about this a good few times. That’s the one big annoyance from our careers, more so than the Leinster final for me, to be honest. It just seemed to be a combination of luck, refereeing and belief that meant we didn’t get across the line. In 2011, we played Portlaoise and were conservative in the first 20 minutes. I think we were down seven or eight when we threw off the shackles and probably put in the best Pat’s performance ever, bringing the game to extra-time. Ray Finnegan got pulled up for a run-ball as he scored an equalising point and we ended up losing by one. In 2012, we beat Rhode away and then had a man sent-off for nothing against Sarsfields in Celbridge. The worst was probably Ballyboden in 2015. We were running with them the full game and I had a goal disallowed in the last couple of minutes to draw the game. I was sick watching them absolutely hammering Castlebar in the All-Ireland final after that. Even as far back as 2003, we lost to St. Brigid’s by a point, who then went as far as the All-Ireland semi.
You played for Ireland in the International Rules series – have you sampled Aussie Rules since you’ve moved Down Under?
Myself and Kevin White from the Pat’s had a full pre-season under our belt with the local amateur team, but the coronavirus put an end to the season starting, so I’m still waiting to make my competitive debut! We did play in the Harmony Cup, a representative tournament, where we both had the Ireland jersey on so that was a great memory.
And life in Australia in general?
Quiet in general! Australia has got away relatively unscathed, especially when compared to Ireland and Europe, but the restrictions have been pretty similar so there hasn’t been much to do over the past couple of months. We’re currently on a farm in Tatura, around 2.5 hours north of Melbourne, so we’re working away, waiting on restrictions to be lifted so we can get a bit of travelling done. Some states have started to lift restrictions, but Victoria is a little slower so hopefully things will pick up over the coming weeks.
You caused some surprise when you lined out with Bellurgan FC soon after you quit the inter-county scene. Is soccer your second love?
It was my first love up to my teens and I was more focussed on my soccer career then, thinking I had a shot of making it professionally. But, these days, I wouldn’t be overly bothered about soccer and would rarely watch a match. Going back to Bellurgan back then was great because, physically, it wasn’t as demanding on the body and it was generally more relaxed than the Pat’s or Louth with regards to the amount of time you needed to put into it.
Do you have a weekend team?
I was a huge Liverpool fan when I was younger and would still have a grá for them. I imagine it would be brilliant to play under Jurgen Klopp; he just seems like a great players’ manager. The LA Chargers in the NFL would be my main team, though.
Your all-time hero?
It would have to be Michael Jordan. I was obsessed with him back in the mid-’90s and had all the jerseys too. The Netflix documentary on him is just quality.
You have a ticket to any world sports event – which one would you choose?
The Superbowl, hopefully with the Chargers involved.
Do you watch Neighbours or Home & Away?
We don’t really watch a whole pile of TV and soaps definitely aren’t my cup of tea. It actually took us about five years after we moved in to get our TV aerial installed! All-time, it’s hard to beat the old HBO shows, particularly The Wire.
Are you a reader?
I used to read pretty much non-stop, but unfortunately I’ve fallen out of the habit and I blame the phone. I still love Papillon, by Henri Charriere.
You were mentioned as a potential TD at one time – did politics interest you?
That was around 2011 and it was something I couldn’t seriously consider at the time. It just would have been impossible to give it the time and attention the job would deserve as I was still playing with Louth and the Pat’s. I’d hate to make a commitment to something and not be able to give it 100 percent.
Invite four to dinner (dead or alive).
James Hetfield (from Metallica), Michael Jordan, Roger Casement, Jurgen Klopp.