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Sunday 19 August 2018

McKeever delighted with debut despite missing record

ANTRIM'S Niall McKeever has admitted the only thing taking the gloss off his debut for the Brisbane Lions last weekend is the fact that Zach Tuohy and Setanta Ó hAilpín's efforts for Carlton in round 11 meant that his presence on the team, along with Mayo man Pearce Hanley, wasn't record-breaking.

Tuohy and Ó hAilpín became the first Irish players to represent the same AFL team since the iconic pairing of former Melbourne Demons, Jim Stynes and Seán Wight.

"Pearce and I were chatting about the fact that we could become the first Irish players to do it," McKeever laughs.

"But then Setanta and Zach pipped us at the post."

The announcement of McKeever's promotion to the club's senior list and subsequent selection for the Fremantle clash at the weekend in Perth was greeted by much praise from the former Gaelic footballers' coach Michael Voss, who declared he would happily "go to war" with the Irish man.

McKeever's selection came after he impressed for not only the Lions reserves, but the Queensland state side.

"Coming from someone like him it's huge," McKeever said.

"He's such a massive presence in the AFL, not just as a coach but as a former player and also an AFL hall of famer too."

Much to the former Gaelic footballer's delight, it was the coach himself that delivered the good news of his imminent debut.

"I'd played a state game (for Queensland) and got on well and I knew we had injuries so I thought I had a chance," said McKeever. "But when you get a phone call from Vossy -- I knew from other guys that had debuted -- that it had to be that and I was thrilled."

McKeever amassed seven disposals in his debut effort, but unfortunately for him there were no post-game celebrations as the Lions fell to their 11th defeat of the season, on this occasion a 23-point loss to the Dockers.

At 6ft 5in, the Irishman has been touted as a possibility to play in a number of positions -- defence, attack and even the ruck.

"I played mainly down back and I think that's where I play my best football. It's good to get a bit of a run on ... I think I played alright so fingers crossed I get another game at the weekend. Getting to play more (senior) games is how I'll progress."



Honour

Having been described as an 'elite runner', McKeever said he was just delighted to be able to run out onto the field alongside an Irish team-mate in Hanley. "Pearce has helped me out massively, even just talking to me before the game," he said.

"It's just a big honour to get to play alongside another Irish player."

While McKeever has most certainly made Brisbane home, he could have just as easily ended up plying his trade in Melbourne. A year before he was recruited by the Lions he underwent a trial at Richmond Tigers but a hamstring injury curtailed his chances of securing a contract and he ended up spending the 2009 season in Ireland playing football for Antrim.

"I don't regret it at all because when I went home I had a great run with Antrim," he said. "We made it to an Ulster final and then were knocked out by the eventual winners Kerry.

"It was a great experience and I certainly don't have any regrets."

With Brisbane likely to field their two Irish recruits for the remainder of the season, there could be a very Irish encounter in store for the final round of the season.

The Lions travel to Sydney Swans at the SCG and the clash could see the team's Irish contingent come up against compatriot Tadhg Kennelly.

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