David Kelly: ‘Keogh’s defensive resilience will be key to any Irish revival’

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David Kelly: ‘Keogh’s defensive resilience will be key to any Irish revival’


Ireland's Richard Keogh. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ireland’s Richard Keogh. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It is only when he furrows his brow that you can see the scar-line above Richard Keogh’s right eye, an heirloom from one of his greatest days in green.

Then again, Keogh doesn’t often have to crease the worry lines upon his forehead; his greying temples betray age but they also advertise the vast experience of the battlefield.

“I probably am a senior player now, yeah,” he says, stroking the familiar beard that, coupled with the wavy mop and rugged features, mark him out as one who could have easily featured in the great Derby league-winning side with Colin Todd and Roy McFarland at its heart.

Keogh’s adaptability could have suited any era, or style; Frank Lampard’s current Derby emphasise a fluid game and the Essex-born player is well capable of contributing.

With Ireland, as most of his squad colleagues can aver, the transition from club to country has always been trickier.

However, playing out from his goal is not his fundamental responsibility; stopping goals are his stock and trade.

Spotted by the late, great Seán McCaffrey, Keogh’s finest hour was arguably against the Germans in the unlikely Dublin win that helped propel Martin O’Neill’s men towards Euro 2016.

Heroics

Although less feted than the heroics of Richard Dunne in Moscow or the genius of Paul McGrath in the Giants Stadium, Keogh’s defensive performance that night deserves to be bracketed amongst such stellar ranks.

Only a few days earlier, he had been cut open while playing for Leeds, requiring 40 stitches, five of them, he describes quite starkly, were actually inside his head.

He knows he shouldn’t have played. He knows he couldn’t have missed it. Ireland needed him too. Without his defensive resilience that night, Shane Long’s wondrous goal might only have been mere consolation, rather than an improbable last chance to keep their tournament hopes alive.

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“There was no way I wasn’t going to play in that Germany game,” he recalls. “I heard people with the Mick McCarthy references afterwards and all that and it was a real compliment to be placed in that bracket.

“But listen, if there’s a shot to be blocked, I’ll throw myself in front of it. If I have to get cut open to make a header, I’ll do it. Especially for my country.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of the net. That Germany game was amazing, everyone doubting us, writing us off. To win how we did was a fantastic night.”

As well as playing a good game, he talks one too. Always has.

“Even when I was five or six, I was quite lively. I loved playing football. Whenever there was a ball around, I kind of got excited and never shut up!

“I’ve probably taken that into the professional game. Naturally it’s something I’ve always done and it has helped me along the way.

“If I can communicate with people, it makes my job easier and it makes their job easier. It’s part of my character, I’m a talkative kind of guy. So when I’m on pitch, it’s like auto-pilot, I just speak. It’s just my character.

“There are fewer talkers in the game now, it’s not like it used to be. When I started with Tony Pulis, I had Clint Hill, Gerry Taggart, Michael Duberry, big powerful figures who’d talk to you all the time and it was almost like you had to speak up to be heard in that company.

“You pick up things from them and learn from them because they never shut up. So naturally you talk or you get pulled up on it. They’d be asking why you didn’t say ‘left shoulder’ or ‘squeeze up’. Without realising it, they’ve taught you how to be a better defender. There’s not that many defenders like that now.”

Nowadays, an onfield goading might seem to the public like in-fighting. To him, it’s just work.

“Yeah, visually people sometimes think it looks wrong, there’s a perception that it’s something it’s not. But when you’re in a good group like ours, or even at club level, it doesn’t matter if someone says something to me or I say something to them.

“It’s our job, we’re all going towards the same end goal of winning. Nowadays, a lot of young lads may take things in a personal sense rather than the professional sense. It’s just the culture that has changed. We’re just trying to help each other.”

Ireland need to.

“We took a bit of a hammer blow after losing the World Cup play-off and it has taken time for us to get off the floor since then but we’ve been striving for consistency and been unlucky in a few games.”

Irish Independent

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