Richard Keogh: ‘Me and Conor get on great... there’s not any animosity’

There is always the next match.

Richard Keogh: ‘Me and Conor get on great... there’s not any animosity’

There is always the next match. The pain of another Championship play-off final defeat remains fresh for Richard Keogh but, such is the life of the modern professional, rarely is there time to dwell on the anguish.

He will turn 33 in August, so the likelihood of reaching the Premier League continues to diminish. International duty with the Republic of Ireland brings a renewed sense of purpose, and seeing his Aston Villa rivals as teammates has helped the healing process.

“Credit to Conor [Hourihane] and Glenn [Whelan] and everyone. We pushed them close and it wasn’t meant to be in the end. But no, me and Conor get on great, we’re friends. His family were actually sitting near my family afterwards up in the lounge (at Wembley),” Keogh said.

“He came in and I went up to him and congratulated him and his family. That’s how it is. There’s not going to be any animosity or anything like that, because we are both playing for our country and we are friends anyway. We were enemies on the pitch, for sure, when we were playing against each other, but afterwards you show that respect and humility.

We spoke to each other’s family and wished each other well and we’ve met up now and are both looking to try and win for Ireland.

The next match is tonight in Copenhagen, a Euro 2020 qualifier with Denmark that will provide the sternest test yet for the burgeoning centreback partnership Keogh has struck up with Shane Duffy over the last 18 months. They have started the last five competitive fixtures together — the first of which came at Euro 2016 on the famous night in Lille when victory over Italy secured progression to the last 16.

“The best feeling I’ve ever experienced,” Keogh recalled.

Keogh and Duffy have struck up a connection which Mick McCarthy appears to favour. “I really enjoy playing with him. We’ve got different strengths but that’s what you need as a partnership. That’s what makes a partnership work. Duff is obviously ridiculously good in the air.

"The best I’ve ever seen. When he is running and jumping, watch out as there is only going to be one winner. He’s really aggressive. Usually when you see tall centre backs they don’t really attack the ball. They use their strength to head it. But he really attacks the ball,” Keogh explained, as he continued to laud the giant alongside him.

He’s like a steam train when he gets going. He is so aggressive. When he is running and jumping he is over seven foot.

"There is more to his game than just heading the ball! I’m probably a little bit better on the ball. We cover ourselves well. I know when the ball is coming in the box if there is one person I want defending the ball it is Shane Duffy — throwing himself in front of the ball.

“You know what the other guy’s strengths are — you work off that, you work off it in training. Me and ‘Duffs’ have played enough games together now that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We try and help each other out as much as possible because it is a partnership and you saw that in the last few games. The more we play together the better the understanding.”

As his 33rd birthday approaches, Keogh’s thoughts are only occupied by what the future holds, yet ahead of this crucial encounter with the Danes tonight, his mind was drawn back to the first leg of the Euro 2016 play-off with Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the inspirational words of Robbie Keane.

“I remember Robbie said: ‘Listen lads, these opportunities don’t come around often to get to a major tournament. There are not many groups of Irish players that have done that so you have to take this chance as there’s nothing better to experience’.

“It was interesting to hear him say that. It was motivating. I thought: ‘I want to be a part of it, to be the group that achieved it’. That’s the pinnacle and that should be the motivation for everyone playing for Ireland, to experience that.”

The Premier League may be out of reach but the Euros is still within grasp.

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