The stakes may not have been as high at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday as the Rockies had another chance if they lost, but O’Keeffe’s tally of 2-6 ensured their survival as well as setting up a last-16 tie with Sarsfields.
O’Keeffe scored 1-3 in the final quarter, while Mark Ryan’s late score put the outcome beyond doubt as Bride struggled in attack, unable to add to Barry Johnson’s 44th-minute free, which put them 0-14 to 1-7 ahead.
For Blackrock manager Ray Delaney, relief was the overriding emotion after the final whistle.
“Without a shadow of a doubt,” he admitted.
“It’s huge, we left ourselves down in earlier games which was very disappointing, we feel that we have a decent team but we haven’t shown it.
“A lot of people have questioned our young players’ inexperience and lack of composure, but anyone from Blackrock couldn’t but have been proud of the people wearing their jersey today. We’re thrilled.”
Of O’Keeffe’s contribution, Delaney gave the highest possible praise. “You can’t give him too much praise because it’d go to his head! He’s a good young fella Keefa, he’s a Rockie.”
O’Keeffe’s scoring aside, Blackrock’s win can be put down to a tightening in the defence in the second half, the move of Wayne Sherlock to the half-back line while Elliot Cantwell was solid at full-back.
Goalscoring ability was key as well. In addition to O’Keeffe’s brace, Bride goalkeeper Denis Fitzgerald made a super stop from Ger O’Regan in the second half, while the East Cork side never threatened a green flag.
The first goal, coming in the 32nd minute when O’Keeffe finished well from an Olan Kelleher handpass, brought Blackrock back to within a point, 0-9 to 1-5, and while Johnson’s free pushed Bride clear again, Kelleher and O’Keeffe had Blackrock level by the 36th minute.
Rovers looked to have repelled that fightback when Seán Ryan, Jerome O’Driscoll (twice) and Johnson all scored during a purple patch, but an injury to Brian Murphy, necessitating a long hold-up, appeared to knock them out of their stride and they would not score again.
In the first half, it was a different story as Blackrock’s forward division struggled to make an impact, with Johnson on form from frees and Michael Collins to the fore as Bride made inroads at the other end.
O’Keeffe’s frees were keeping Blackrock in touch, however, and with eight minutes left in the first half it was only 0-5 to 0-4. Bride kicked on from there, Johnson with a 65, Daniel Dooley, Collins with his third point and Jason Mannix all scoring to open up a five-point interval lead.
A super Kelleher point got Blackrock off to a good start in the second half, though, before O’Keeffe struck for his goal. Despite Bride’s revival, as the second half wore on the Rockies’ younger legs began to have more of an influence and when Shane O’Keeffe’s 53rd-minute delivery broke in the large rectangle, his namesake was on hand to fire to the net.
Scorers for Blackrock: K O’Keeffe 2-6 (0-5f), O Kelleher 0-2, G O’Regan, D Cashman, M Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Bride Rovers: B Johnson 0-5 (0-4f, 0-1 65), M Collins 0-3, J O’Driscoll, D Dooley 0-2 each, J Mannix, S Ryan 0-1 each.
BLACKROCK: A Long; W Sherlock, E Cantwell, R Laide; B Ahern, K Murphy, G Norberg; R Dineen, E O’Farrell; S O’Keeffe, G O’Regan, D Cashman; O Kelleher, M Ryan, K O’Keeffe.
Subs: S Murphy for Norberg (45), C O’Leary for O’Regan (50), P Deasy for Cashman (51), B O’Keeffe for Kelleher (60).
BRIDE ROVERS: D Fitzgerald; A Collins, Brian Murphy, S Kearney; M Kearney, Barry Murphy, L Forde; J Pratt, B Johnson; M Collins, J O’Driscoll, P Murphy; J Mannix, D Dooley, S Ryan.
Subs: C O’Keeffe for M Kearney (49), D Burke for Mannix (51), S Boyce for P Murphy (59), P Walsh for O’Keeffe (60).
Referee: J Sexton (Ballyhea).