The Borris-Ileigh man played for his home club in Tipperary for 15 seasons but transferred to De La Salle in 2010, at the age of 31, owing to work and family commitments in Waterford.
Back when the Abbey Community College teacher in Ferrybank was starting out as a senior club player, he was also winning a minor Munster championship for Tipp with Thurles Sarsfields man Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady.
Now it’s all come full circle as the veteran forwards meet in a repeat of the 2010 Munster final, when De La Salle won 0-9 to 0-8 in freezing conditions at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Keane also soldiered as a Tipp U21 with O’Grady and with Sarsfields’ experienced midfielder Johnny Enright.
“Johnny, I know from watching him play for the club down the years, is very skilful and a great man to read the game,” said Keane.
“Redser and I would have been quite friendly growing up. My mother worked with his sister. So I would have known him through hurling and family connections and he was a good auld character.”
It was 1987 when the last Tipperary side won the All-Ireland Club title, Richard Stakelum, Bobby and Aidan Ryan led Borris-Ileigh to glory. Jump forward 25 years and, curiously, it’s another Borris-Ileigh man attempting to prevent his fellow Tipp men from breaching that long gap.
“They had some team on paper back in 1987,” said Thurles man O’Grady.
“It’s gas that it’s so long since a Tipp team won it. John made a move down there with the teaching and he’s playing well down there. He was the difference the last day [against Newmarket-on-Fergus]. He played well against Sars in 2010. Hopefully he won’t go too well on Sunday.
I hurled county minor with John in 1997 and we were lucky enough to win a Munster final and we got beat by Galway in the semi-final. John was good auld craic. He came on in that Munster final and nearly won it for us, a super sub like.”
Keane has been in good scoring form in 2012 and his injury-time goal against Newmarket, with the teams locked at 0-10 apiece, set up a rematch of the 2010 final.
“I’m after getting some slagging from the students in school here about the celebration,” he laughed.
“I might have gone overboard a bit on it but I might never be there again so you have to enjoy these things while you can.
“If I was a little bit younger and fitter, I might have been out the field trying to win the game. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have too much to do, I was only standing in waiting to see if something would happen.”
Keane won north Tipperary titles with Borris-Ileigh in 2005 and 2007 but has gone on to greater success with De La Salle as he chases a second Munster crown. So does it mean more with either side?
“The pleasures are the same. It’s the same feeling after the final whistle goes. I’ve been very lucky that the people from Borris-Ileigh understood that the time was right to leave, and that I had to leave because of family commitments. I’ve been getting great support and text messages off several of the players I hurled with in Borris-Ileigh, and that’s great that they’re happy to see me have some success at this late stage in my career.”
Sarsfields hit 17 wides when the Waterford men won in 2010, with Keane admitting his side were the more economical. The conditions for Sunday look more conducive to hurling, though the forward feels his side must minimise the effect of Tipp star Pádraic Maher to win.
“Obviously when you’re playing against a player of that calibre, you’re going to have your own few ideas of how you might keep him out of the game. Really I suppose at this time of the year, and with someone as powerful as him, it’s going to be very difficult to do that.
“Two years ago we proved we could live with them. They have some excellent players, some high-profile guys on all lines of the field really. But we think if we go down there and play our own game to the maximum of our ability, we should have a fair chance.”