HAUNTED BY GHOST GOAL
Louth ace Keenan desperate to exorcise Leinster demons
FIRST up: the war. You try not to mention it and he veers away from talking about it where possible, but the events of July 12, 2010, have been such a central theme in Paddy Keenan's daily life over the past year that at times, it is simply unavoidable.
Louth have been at agonising pains to draw a line under it, or through it, or whatever will make the references go away. Indeed, Keenan himself spoke from the steps of the Hogan Stand back in April about exorcising demons, a belated trip he made after the Wee County's Division 3 triumph over Westmeath.
Keenan could play on for another 10 years, win a couple more All Stars and maybe even that elusive Leinster title and still, the summer of 2010 will forever be the one he is asked about.
Now though, on the eve of Louth's first foray into provincial fare since that match, Keenan has moved on to a place where he analyses the entire season, the run to the final and the day itself, in cold and practical terms.
Extrapolating the positives from such a miscarriage of justice is a hard sell, but Keenan is almost numb to the memory.
"Last year was a great run and a great experience for us all," he offers. "Especially with such a young team. But also, because of what happened, a lot of lads have grown up an awful lot in the last year."
Justice, of course, went undone but Keenan finally got to give a victory speech as Louth captain when they revisited the scene of the crime and beat Westmeath in that Division 3 final.
"It was good to get an extra game and get into Croke Park," he says, wondering whether to 'go there' with his next words. "And, I suppose winning any kind of silverware in Croke Park was always going to be nice."
The perception that if Louth had ducks, they would drown, has softened slightly. A blistering start to this year's league prefaced a run of three defeats and left them in the bizarre position of being subject to both relegation and promotion connotations on the final day.
Results went their way. Louth beat Waterford, qualified for the final and took Westmeath and a match where -- it almost goes without saying at this stage -- Keenan was the star man.
More than that, the draw in Leinster has been extremely kind. All of the Division 1 and 2 representation, namely Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Laois, were lumped together while Louth face Division 4 strugglers, Carlow, in O'Moore Park on Sunday with the winners taking on Wexford or Westmeath for a spot in the decider.
At one stage last year, the county was in a state of giddy euphoria followed by disgusted outrage. Those heightened emotions haven't quelled during winter and duly, talk in Louth is almost exclusively about the possibility of making back-to-back Leinster finals.
"It's hard to avoid it because no matter who you're talking to, they keep saying it," says Keenan. "But we've had plenty of years where we've had good draws and we never made anything of it."
"We're not anywhere where we can expect to be going to a Leinster final. Just because you get there once doesn't mean you're going to get back there again.
"We're not Cork or Kerry and expect to be in provincial finals. The reality is, we're going to have to work twice as hard to get back there."
2010 was also the year Keenan became Louth's first All Star. Falling in any other year and under any other set of circumstances, the satisfaction might have been greater. As it was, the winter activity of choice was mainly rueing.
Keenan says: "It was brilliant to win it. It was great for Louth people and the club. But the main aim is to win something with Louth. Personal awards are all well and good but -- and I've said it plenty of times since -- you would prefer to have the Leinster medal in your back pocket."
Still, Keenan admits that it is nicer to have "expectation" rather than "hope" as the overriding feeling coming into summer.
The return of John O'Brien and Mick Fanning from America was a welcome surprise but Keenan is genuinely impressed with the performances of those who stepped into the breach in their absence this spring.
Keenan, though, has soldiered through the least of it and the most of it and knows the line between the two is fickle.
"Some of the bandwagon supporters would probably expect you to get to a Leinster final straight away because of the draw," he admits. "But we didn't play all that well this year and if we play like we did against Cavan or Offaly in the league, we won't beat Carlow, let alone get to a Leinster final.
"But we've plenty of experience from last year," Keenan adds. "There's probably not a whole lot that could shock us anymore."
Just don't mention the war.