Leinster medal win delays Conal Keaney’s decision

The defeat of Portlaoise by Ballyboden St Enda’s on Sunday didn’t just earn Conal Keaney an unexpected Leinster football medal, it delayed the approaching decision on whether or not to extend his inter-county hurling career.

Keaney has been a member of the Dublin hurling panel since calling time with their footballing counterparts in 2010 after seven years’ service — and he is clearly in two minds as to whether another campaign under Ger Cunningham is in him in 2016.

“I don’t know what’s happening with Dublin, to be fair,” he said after the defeat of Portlaoise in Tullamore. “I haven’t talked to Ger so I’ve just been concentrating on this. Maybe I’m too old to play anymore. I don’t know.

“It’s always on your mind. You’re always trying to look at yourself because there’s always a season ahead or there’s always something coming down the line but, you know, I think I have to look at it.”

He is 33 now, after all, and he hadn’t even planned on playing football with the club this year. But there he was on Sunday, alongside dual colleagues such as Stephen Hiney, Stephen O’Connor, and Shane Durkin, and playing his part. Rewind to just over two months back and football still wasn’t in his immediate orbit. It was only the Wednesday before their last-16 defeat of Kilmacud Crokes that he reckons the decision to give the big ball a go again crystallised in his mind.

It was little more than that then. ’Boden have long been deemed a ‘hurling club’ and Keaney was part of that branch for whom a county title in the smaller code was the absolute priority. It just didn’t materialise that way.

“We wanted to put on a stamp on it this year and when we were beaten in the hurling we regrouped and said, ‘What else are we going to do?’ We said,‘Let’s just go and play football. The whole lot of us.’ That’s what we did and we knuckled down.”

Ballyboden face Clonmel Commercials or London’s Tir Chonaill Gaels in an All-Ireland semi-final next February but it was interesting to hear Keaney claim they will likely start the 2016 Dublin championship as only third or fourth favourites. They accounted for St Oliver Plunkett, Eoghan Ruadh, and St Vincent’s as well in Dublin this year and, though they were fortunate to overcome Portlaoise, Keaney believes they are improving as they go and that there is better to come. He’s enjoying it, which seems to be the main thing.

Football with the club is a break from the rigours and regularity of the demands with the county hurlers. It’s still serious but on a level perceptibly below that of the inter-county game. It helps that he holds manager Andy McEntee in such high regard. “Andy is a seriously top, top manager. Probably one of the best managers I think I’ve ever had. He just understands players so well. He pushes you when you need to be pushed and he pats you on the back when you need to be patted on the back.”

Their annexation of Leinster makes it nine such titles in the last 13 years for Dublin clubs and Keaney believes ’Boden were aided in the last few weeks by the examples set by the likes of St Vincent’s and Ballymun Kickhams. “Every team that gets out of Dublin, they seem to just get on a roll and win the Leinster title. It is a big factor that this team doesn’t know when it’s beaten. Every game has come down to the last 10 minutes that we’ve played, especially in Dublin.

“And we just keep grinding out results. Even (on Sunday), we knew we were never going to be beaten. We just knew it was never going to happen. Even if it was going to extra-time, I think we were prepared mentally. We rode our luck. They hit the post and the ball came straight back out to one of our lads. They missed a free in the last few minutes but, look, there’s many the year we’ve been on the wrong side of that luck. We’re not going to complain about it .”

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