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Thursday 8 December 2016

Conal so keen to leave mark on Leinster

Provincial exits have sickened Ballyboden in the past ... now Keaney wants to atone

Conal Keaney
Conal Keaney

The chase for Leinster club glory hasn't exactly been a fulfilling pursuit for Conal Keaney.

Six times in seven seasons, starting in 2007, Ballyboden St Enda's emerged from the capital as standard-bearers of Dublin hurling only to fall short in their province. They wanted that validation, doubtless felt they were good enough ... it didn't happen.

Back in 2009, the 'Boden footballers shared centre stage with their small ball brethren after an historic county title double. Keaney, then a Dublin footballer, was their busiest double-jobber of all during that crazy autumn/winter ... but then in the run-up to their Leinster SFC semi-final against Garrycastle, he was floored by illness.

Everywhere

"I was really sick coming into it. I only really got out of bed the night before," he recalled, speaking to The Herald yesterday. "It wasn't just me (skipper Declan O'Mahony was suspended; vice-captain Kenny Naughton injured) ... we were trying to force backs into forwards and we were missing free-takers. Little things were all going against us, but on the day Garrycastle were kicking scores from absolutely everywhere."

Keaney climbed off his sick bed to play the last dozen minutes in Mullingar; but by then, the favourites were playing a forlorn game of catch-up. They lost by five.

Their footballers haven't been back in Leinster since - but that will change this Sunday when they travel to Drogheda as hot favourites to dispatch the Louth challengers, St Patrick's of Lordship.

Keaney's county football days are long behind him; he has spent the past five seasons in his second coming as a Dublin hurler. But he's still keen as hell to scratch that provincial itch, and several fellow dual players (especially long-serving comrades like Stephen Hiney and Shane Durkin) can surely empathise.

"It would be fairly accurate to say that a lot of us, the hurlers that are there, would have liked to be in Leinster with the hurlers and really pushing on - because that's what we always thought was going to happen," he admits.

"But there's a change this year, we're with the footballers and we're in Leinster. So we certainly want to learn from our experience and go and win a Leinster title, be it football or hurling it doesn't really matter, and hopefully achieve what other Dublin clubs have in the football.

"But you certainly can't take any games for granted. It doesn't matter if they're from a so-called weaker county or not," he stresses.

"There's four or five of us there also with the hurlers; a good lot of years we got out of Dublin and never really achieved anything in Leinster.

"So we're trying to really learn from all that. And even back in 2009 ... we probably nearly took it for granted. 'Oh, a Dublin team gets out, they're going to win Leinster'.

"This year more than ever, Andy (McEntee, their manager) is really instilling in us that what's done is done; we can talk about it and enjoy it in a couple of years, but now we're here to make a difference and Pat's just stand in our way."

Boden's latest 2/13 match odds contrast starkly with their status for last Sunday's county final against St Vincent's.

"Every year we were always underdogs in the football championship, for one reason or another. Maybe it's because we don't have a huge amount of the Dublin team, I don't know," he muses.

On reflection, Keaney reckons all the hype over Vincent's quest for three-in-a-row greatness played into their hands.

"We all saw the headlines saying that they were going to be Dublin legends. And even when you open the programme, Dermo (Diarmuid Connolly) was the best player ever in Dublin … a lot of pressure on them, a lot of pressure on Dermo. It's tough to perform like that when all that hype is there. You can say you're not talking about it, but it's in the back of a lot of lads' minds. Wherever you're going in work, people are always talking about it."

Motivation

"All that stuff", as he coins it, added to the motivation for Ballyboden. Not that they needed much more: Vincent's had ended their previous two Dublin campaigns.

Keaney felt they could match if not outdo them for physicality and workrate; getting scores at the vital time was key. Cue last Sunday's opening blitkzrieg ...

"We were conscious of not playing safe," he says. "We were going to attack them from everywhere, be it full-back or half-back.

"Although it didn't look like that in the last ten or 15 minutes! But that was the plan in the first half, to really go at them."

And now for Plan B: that Leinster itch.

Conal Keaney has recently undertaken a new business initiative - check out www.PhoenixParkBikes.com follow on twitter @BikesinthePark or www.Facebook.com/phoenixparkbikes

Leinster club SFC: St Patrick's v Ballyboden St Enda's (Drogheda, Sunday 2.00pm)

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