As Richard Keogh outlines every bump along his trek to the Euros, he’s well within his rights to pause and describe it as a “good story”.
The centre-back will be 30 by the time his next Championship campaign kicks off and he’ll have banked memories, including a likely marking job on Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Paris, from his summer excursion to France.
Keogh can have reason to cherish the upside of professional football, for his route was anything but straightforward. Desire persuaded him to up sticks as a teen from Stoke City for a spell in Iceland and he ended up spending two years in the lower reaches at Carlisle United.
He’s still to sample the Premier League, despite Burnley lodging a bid in 2014 during their last top-flight season and his Derby side coming close to promotion through the play-offs.
“Sometimes you go through setbacks to get where you want in a football career,” he explains.
“I felt like I had to take a few steps back to find myself earlier my career. Moving to Carlisle might have seemed a gamble but, in fairness, I haven’t looked back since.
“I’m lucky enough I’ve been able to achieve that. It’s been a good story, a great journey and I’m very lucky to get to this point.”
Patience has also been needed on the international front but since stepping into the centre-back berth for the historic win over Germany in October, Keogh has performed well enough to indicate he’ll retain the position alongside John O’Shea for Monday’s Euro 2016 Group E opener against Sweden.
Having shadowed the likes of Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski and Edin Dzeko during his international crash-course of late 2015, he’s ready for the threat coming from the Swedish talisman.
He said: “I just think it’s an exciting time to play as a professional. There is no better time to play for your country than at a massive tournament.
“Whether it’s Zlatan or whoever, you want to try and settle into the game as quick as possible.
“Obviously being a defender, my job is to win headers and be composed and be in control of my game.
“We are going to be playing against world-class players because that’s the nature of the tournament.
“As a player you want to test yourself against the best. I think that’s what we’ve got to focus on anyway.
“I think I’ve got more confident with every cap I’ve got. The Bosnia play-off game was a big moment, for sure, because it was a pressure game. To perform how we did, not just me personally but as a team, and to finish that game off was great for the country and something I’ll never ever forget.
“Dzeko is a very good player, he has won Premier Leagues and has played at a very high level, so I’ll be ready for the challenges in the Euros.” For the final group game against Italy in Lille on June 22, Keogh will have a special guest sitting in the crowd.
“My wife had a baby boy, Sebastian, six weeks ago and I’ve got his passport sorted out,” he beamed. “Of course, it’s an Irish passport!”
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