Alan Keane cautiously optimistic about starting against Zenit
‘Surreal’ return to Dundalk has been marked by success against Cork and Longford
Dundalk’s Alan Keane: “I didn’t think for a minute a few months back when I was playing GAA that I’d end up involved in a title decider with Dundalk last week.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Alan Keane’s hopes of starting for Dundalk when they meet Zenit may have been dealt a fatal blow by Sean Gannon’s involvement in the final training session ahead of the Europa League group game. However, having made key contributions in the wins over Cork and Longford, the former Sligo star has certainly given Stephen Kenny options as he sits down to select his side. Not bad for a man recently returned from retirement in order, some might have felt at the time, to make up the numbers.
The 32-year-old does not, to be fair, come across as the type to come back for that. After seven years at the Showgrounds, during which he played more than 200 games – with a league win and three FAI Cups along the way – Keane left at the start of this year, he says, because he feared the club was not going to be competitive while in transition and felt it would be better to go than to suffer the disappointment of having to depart just as things were starting to come good again.
“It was a hard call to make because I was entitled to a new deal on the same terms and Dave [Robertson, the manager] was very good about trying to keep me. But I’d just lost my buzz for it, most of the lads were leaving and there was going to be a new team so I thought I might as well just step aside and make way as well. It was a tough decision to make but once I had made it all I felt was relief.”
Keane took to playing intermediate Gaelic football with St John’s and had a spell helping out former Rovers assistant boss Alan Rogers with the Isle of Man football team so he had never entirely gone away. That said, he had strayed far enough to make the call from Stephen Kenny feel like a bolt from the blue – a good one, that is.
‘Surreal’ title deciderBrian GartlandDerry City
“Along the way, I was working hard on my fitness and I think I’ve got back up to the pace of it but then it’s such a strong team, the lads make it easier for you; when you do make a mistake there’s always someone there to provide a bit of cover.”
The importance of the games, Keane says, means motivation is not an issue and being involved in Europe again is a particular attraction although, having travelled to the Netherlands, he missed the Maccabi game as his grandmother had passed away the previous day.
Now, after coming in for an injured Gannon, Keane suffered a calf strain in the 3-0 defeat to Sligo, so he is cautious about the prospect of actually starting such a huge game for the club and gracious about the idea that he might not. “Sean has done incredibly well, they all have, the hunger amongst the lads is amazing, you’d never think that they had already won two league titles but it’s down to the manager, whatever he decides to do will be fine with me. Whether I play or not, I’m enjoying my football and feeling better than I ever have.”
Keane is playing about as well too, by the looks of last week, and clearly ready if required against the Russians.