Pre-season boost for Cork hurlers as Mark Keane leaves AFL for Rebel cause

Both Cork senior managers were understandably keen to secure the services of the 21-year-old for the season ahead when it emerged that Keane was mulling over his AFL future with Collingwood
Pre-season boost for Cork hurlers as Mark Keane leaves AFL for Rebel cause

Mark Keane of Cork celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the Munster final win over Kerry in 2020. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The Cork hurlers’ Liam MacCarthy Cup ambitions have received a definite boost with the news that Mark Keane has cut short his AFL career and will instead throw his lot in with Kieran Kingston’s panel for the 2022 season.

Both Cork senior managers were understandably keen to secure the services of the 21-year-old for the season ahead when it emerged that Keane was mulling over his AFL future with Collingwood and whether to return to Australia post-Christmas.

That Keane has opted for the small ball, rather than return to the football set-up he temporarily fell in with during the winter of 2020, is a big plus to the hurlers’ 2022 plans and provides Kingston with increased options in the middle third.

Keane, who is set to feature for the county in Friday evening’s Canon O’Brien Cup fixture against UCC (Mardyke, 7pm), is understood to have lined out for the Cork hurlers in a challenge game against Kilmallock prior to last weekend’s Munster Club JHC final win with his native Ballygiblin.

Keane's departure from the AFL was confirmed by Collingwood on Thursday night stating the player and club have mutually agreed to part ways.

“We thank Mark for his contribution to the program over the past three years,” Collingwood GM of Football, Graham Wright said.

“Unfortunately, Mark has suffered from homesickness his entire time at Collingwood. He went home early in August prior to the season finishing and returned after training had started in November.

“Mark didn’t return for training in the New Year and we decided, along with Mark, that the rigours of AFL football combined with being away from home are too much for him at this time.

“We wish Mark all the best with his future endeavours and hope being home in Ireland is exactly what he needs.”

Having been away from the game for almost three years before returning to the Ballygiblin fold for their 2021 county junior championship run, Keane will require time to find his feet at senior inter-county level.

Mark Keane during a Collingwood Magpies training session in 2020. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Mark Keane during a Collingwood Magpies training session in 2020. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

The Ballygiblin centre-back, who has been instrumental in the club reaching the All-Ireland semi-final, hinted at his desire to make hurling his number one priority following the club’s county final win over Dromtarriffe at the end of November.

"I would like one day to come back and play with Cork, whether it's next year or the year after, as I am seriously considering switching codes as I just love the sport,” he said.

Keane had one year left on his contract with Collingwood, who he joined in 2018, and was due to return to Australia this week for pre-season.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner in January of last year, he explained how difficult he found being abroad with Covid challenges.

“Last time I was talking to you I was getting a bit homesick. Then we went away to a hub,” he said.

“I stopped going to training for two or three days, to be honest. My head was just all over the place. I wanted to pack it in. All I wanted was to go home. To play for Cork and see my family.”

Keane famously returned home to Ireland during the 2020 AFL off-season and scored the extra-time goal at Páirc Uí Chaoimh that eliminated Kerry from the Munster SFC.

In August of 2021, he was at home for Mitchelstown’s delayed 2020 Cork intermediate football final against Rockchapel, a game in which he was introduced as a first-half sub. There followed his Ballygiblin involvement throughout November, although he did miss the club’s Munster semi-final win over Limerick’s Caherline having flown back out to Australia. His next Ballygiblin outing will come in the All-Ireland semi-final, against Manchester’s Fullen Gaels, on the weekend of January 22/23.

The 21-year-old played five games for Collingwood during his time with the Melbourne-based club and had been earmarked as their future key defender having impressed at the Dublin combine back in 2017.

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