Sunday 23 October 2016

Donal Keogan: 'I didn't want Meath captaincy if I couldn't commit 100%'

Keogan is maintaining that vital balance between work and football to lead Royals into battle in this year's Leinster SFC

Donal Keogan, Meath
Donal Keogan, Meath
Mick O'Dowd

IF you want something done, ask a busy person.

Or so goes the theory goes anyway.

Late last year, in gearing up his plans for 2015, Mick O'Dowd asked Donal Keogan to be Meath's captain.

At 23, and easily the Royals' best player over the past couple of slow progress years, Keogan is an obvious enough, if relatively young, candidate to succeed Kevin Reilly, himself a natural and commanding general - but a cruelly and habitually injured one at that.

Keogan, a qualified chemist, is a first year PhD student at the Department of Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry in the Royal College of Surgeons.


Specifically, he works in the area of bio-inorganic chemistry.

Think Meath GAA meets Breaking Bad!

But instead of making crystal meth, Keogan is developing drugs to be used to treat H.pylori, a bacteria that causes stomach diseases.

He hasn't, therefore, the sort of time on his hands a student or teacher or some other GAA-friendly occupation might afford in the summer months during which he expects to lead Meath to real tangible progress this year.

"I'm up at a quarter past six every morning. On the bus at seven o'clock from Slane.

"In College usually around eight. Do the days work in the lab or whatever. Generally get the half five bus," Keogan explains of a typical day.

"Then home for about 6.40. Straight into the car from Slane. Training for half seven.

"Get food there. Home about 11 o'clock and up again at six the morning. Repeat.

"If you have a lot on your plate," he surmises, "it forces you to be organised."


The only thing, it seems, that the life of a PhD student and the life of an inter-county footballer have in common is that both have the reputation for commanding the full and undiluted attentions of the participant.

Co-existence isn't advised.

"I'm just lucky that both parties are very accommodating," Keogan acknowledges.

"I have heard about people doing similar PhDs where their supervisors say 'it's the PhD and nothing else'.

"With us, they say to make sure you have a life outside the PhD as well."

That that life is devoted, almost exclusively to the betterment of the Meath team about to begin their Leinster SFC campaign against Wicklow on Sunday in Navan (3.30) probably wasn't what they had in mind.

"He (O'Dowd) didn't ask me (to become captain) until the back end of the year and I had started the PHD at that stage so I was thinking: 'would it be possible to juggle the two?'

"I said, 'look, do it this year'. Because this year would be my best chance because the work load would be the least.

"We'll quantify it after that again.

"It was a factor I had to think about because I didn't want to take the captaincy unless I could commit to it 100 per cent. But I didn't have to think about it too much either."

Surprised at all to be asked?

"Yeah, I was. To be captain of anything is a huge privilege.

"I was 23 and Kevin (Reilly) had been doing a great job. Himself and Stephen Bray would be huge figures, real influential lads and real leaders.

"When I was asked, I was taken aback that, one, he thought that much of me and, two, he thought I could do the job as well.

"It's a great privilege. Especially at the age I'm at. But if they believe in me, why not?"

Despite clearly the very hectic daily grind, not particularly condusive to day dreaming, Keogan reckons he thinks about football: "Every minute of every day.

"Even on the buses and stuff. I like to tough base with a lot of lads. Even just a quick text or Whatsapp or whatever.

"Just, 'how are you feeling?' or 'any injuries?' or 'any thoughts on training?'

"Simple stuff like that."

"I spend a lot of time thinking about all aspects of it," he adds.

"I spend a lot of time running things through in my head in relation to football during the day."


Which probably includes plenty of thought about Dublin, the oppressive force prohibiting Meath's progress towards a Leinster title.

With Wicklow on Sunday and either Westmeath or Wexford in the Leinster semi-final should they win, the short hand for Meath's season is that a Leinster final - and a far improved show from last year's decider - is a minimum requirement.

"That's the thing isn't it? Everyone is talking about Dublin as if their names are carved into the trophy already so…and rightly so," Keogan says. "Last year they gave us a good beating," he recalls.

"I don't think we were that bad. I don't think we were 16 points a worse team than Dublin.

"But that's what keeps us motivated. Dublin are at their pinnacle at the moment.

"Every day you go out, you want to be better than the best.

"You don't plan for losses. You plan to go out and win. We've lost the last four to Dublin and it's not getting any easier.

"I think the losses, if anything, make you want it more, he adds.

"But there is a lot of young guys on the team. Which is great. There's new blood coming into the team the whole time.

"Football in Meath … that's the tradition. People love telling you about the great teams back in the day. And they half expect that sort of thing. Whether it's right or wrong, based on the players you have … that's another thing.

"But we'd love to give them something to cheer about."

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