United twin starlets on opposite sides of Anglo-Irish divide
TWIN brothers Michael and William Keane from Manchester United's youth academy could end up facing each other on the field of play if Ireland and England clash in the European youth championships later this year.
Ireland's U17 side travel on Monday to play host nation Greece, Finland and Austria in the Elite qualifying phase, the winners of that three-team group going on to the Euro finals in Liechtenstein in the summer.
U17 boss Sean McCaffrey announced his squad for the tournament earlier this week and he was pleased to have secured the capture of Manchester United defender Michael Keane, who was included in an Irish squad for the first time.
But two days earlier, the English FA announced their squad for their qualifying tournament at home to Sweden, Malta and Slovakia -- and included was Manchester United striker William Keane, Michael's twin brother, who scored again for United's reserves in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City last night.
If Ireland and England both qualify from their groups, history would be made if the Keane twins ended up playing against each other at the Euro finals.
They both qualify for Ireland as their dad, Michael senior, was born in Dublin but the boys, who turned 17 in January, have followed different paths at international level.
"It's great to have Michael on board with us. We knew for a long time that he was eligible but we didn't think he would declare and come to play for us," said Ireland U17 boss Sean McCaffrey.
"It would be strange for brothers, especially twins, to play for different counties. Of course, we would love to have William on board with the Irish team as well but, for now, there is no chance of that. He has already played for England and he's made it clear that he wants to stick with the English team," McCaffrey added.
The boys are making progress through the United academy, and defender Michael is a regular in the U18 team, but William, a striker with a stunning scoring record at schoolboy level, is already being tipped to make it all the way at Old Trafford.
He made his debut for the United reserves last October when he was just 16, and on Monday he scored the only goal of the game as United's reserves beat Stockport 1-0.
Brothers playing international football for different countries is not new: Archie Goodall won 10 caps for a pre-partition Ireland while his brother John played for England.
More recently, ex-Chelsea man John Hollins played for England (1967) while his brother Dave was capped by Wales. Christian Vieiri hit the heights with Italy while his kid brother Max won caps for Australia.
Irish football also saw confusion over fraternal relations in the '90s over the Gallen family, brothers Kevin, Steve and Joe.
With parents from Donegal and Mayo, the London-born kids were all eligible to play for Ireland. Joe (later to play in the League of Ireland with Dundalk and Drogheda) and Steve played for Ireland, winning youth and U21 caps, but Kevin was lost to the English cause, partly due to pressure on him from his club QPR to stick with England due to the four-foreigner rule in place at the time.
So in March 1995 Kevin, who had Irish parents and whose brothers wore the green shirt, played alongside Nicky Butt for England -- and against Shay Given and Stephen Carr -- as they beat Ireland 2-0 in an U21 European Championship qualifier in Dalymount Park.
McCaffrey said there was no question of the FAI pursuing William in a bid to persuade him to go green like his twin. "I am very glad that we have Michael with us, and, from all reports I have seen and heard, William is a very special player," he said.
"But he has been in the England set-up for some time and he wants to play for England so there's not a lot we can do. Who knows what will happen down the road and in the future? But for now we will work with Michael. He's technically very good and he's getting a good education at United."