| 14°C Dublin

rebel down under Cork hero Mark Keane ready to impress in Melbourne

Rebels’ final hero on steep learning curve as he battles injury down under

Close

Cork's Mark Keane celebrates after scoring his side's late, late goal during their Munster SFC semi-final match victory over Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork's Mark Keane celebrates after scoring his side's late, late goal during their Munster SFC semi-final match victory over Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Cork's Mark Keane celebrates after scoring his side's late, late goal during their Munster SFC semi-final match victory over Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Far from home, there’s always a reminder of the old country. For Collingwood and Cork’s Mark Keane one will take the form of a Sunday morning trip to run a few drills with local kids at their weekly GAA training session in Melbourne.

Kids GAA Melbourne’ was an idea, spawned in 2016, that was aimed at bringing Gaelic games to a wider community. It has gone from strength to strength and will now become ‘Young Melbourne GAA’ to offer more games to its graduates.

And this weekend, Keane and other Irish AFL and AFLW stars will be on hand to help mark the launch of the GAA’s newest club. Keane had no hesitation when he was asked to attend. The Irish community in a great sporting city tend to find time for each other.

His profile has shot through the roof of late. Last year, he made his AFL debut while over the winter he wrote his name into the annals of the Cork-Kerry rivalry with his late smash and grab.

On his return to Australia, he received a warm welcome from his team-mates who had seen his goal on social media. In commentary, RTE’s Ger Canning had described him as the “man from the AFL” in the aftermath of his goal. The dressing room didn’t take long to pick up on that.

“They were getting around me when I came back saying ‘the boy from the AFL scored the goal’. They were saying you’re the man from Australia, you’re not the Irish guy anymore. That was in the commentary when I scored.

“But they were very supportive of me and I was really appreciative of Collingwood for letting me play. About 20 of my team-mates contacted me after the game saying congratulations.”

Keane’s AFL debut arrived against Fremantle. Almost freakishly, he fitted his bow into a window when most of the world was locked down, but Perth was Covid free and 50,000 supporters were in the stands. And on his return this time, the plan was to build on that. It all looked to be going well as Keane was playing for Collingwood’s ‘A’ side in an in-house match when injury hit.

“I was just pushing off an opponent and my finger got caught in his jersey. I ruptured a tendon in my finger.”

He has just return to training after two months out and for the next couple of weeks he’ll try and impress with the club’s VFL (reserve) side and force his way back up the depth chart. His urgency to build on last year’s senior debut is heightened by the fact that, as we talk, news is breaking that Melbourne (Victoria) stadia will be allowed host 75pc of their capacity, with Sydney (New South Wales) returning to 100pc.

“It was a long eight weeks but this is my first week back into it so we’ll go from here and see how it goes. We’re playing (tonight) but I’m not in the team for that, it’ll take about four weeks to try and get back to the senior squad.”

There are 13 other Irish players in the AFL, all at varying stages of their career. Seven of those are in the greater Melbourne area. They play for different clubs but often rely on each other for support as they try to make a career in a strange game on the other side of the world. For Keane’s birthday, which falls on St Patrick’s Day, they took him out for a surprise meal. He also shares a house with Meath’s Cian McBride and has taken to introducing the Essendon hopeful to hurling.

Mitchelstown clubman Keane is contracted until the end of the 2022 season and he’s been on a steep learning curve since arriving Down Under, playing VFL just months after joining the club.

“I think I played my first VFL games within about five months. So I had just picked up a new sport and then was going for a full 18 v 18 competitive match against fellas who have grown up playing the game.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

“It was obviously very nerve-wracking and I wasn’t full sure of the rules so it took me a while but I got into it. I have stuff to improve on and it took about six or seven months to get used to it properly so I know the game a lot more now.”

With a whirlwind 12 months behind him, Keane is looking to go again.

“Short term I had a goal to get back after the injury and get firing. And looking longer term I’m hoping to make 10/12 appearances this year all going well. I want to try and perform well in the VFL in the coming weeks and slip into the senior team and see where that goes.”

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy