The more I trained with them, the more I got back my love of the game - Alan Keane interview

Sat, Jul 14 2018

Alan Keane in action for Sligo Rovers in 2015 Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick

Galwegian Alan Keane has won every domestic honour with Sligo Rovers, but although instrumental in their historic 2012 Premier Division success, he missed the run-in due to injury. Once retired in early 2016, little did Alan know that his role would be reversed in Dundalk’s colours come the end of that year’s league campaign.

Following a youth career with St. Bernard’s and Mervue United, Keane joined local League of Ireland outfit Galway United in 2005, debuting during that season’s closing fixtures. Four years later, the young defender found himself departing the Tribesmen, somewhat against his wishes.

“It was a tough decision because I was in Australia and hoped to sign back for Galway, but the interest came from Sligo and Paul Cook. Even on my drive to Sligo to sign, I contacted Galway to see if we could sort out a deal, but they never got back to me and the rest is history.”

Alan’s second season at the Showgrounds coincided with the beginning of a fruitful five-year trophy haul, which saw Sligo capture a cup double – the 2010 FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup. During the FAI Cup Final’s penalty shoot-out decider against Shamrock Rovers, Keane missed the Bit O’Red’s second spot-kick, but they ultimately prevailed.

“We lost the 2009 cup final, which I blame myself for Gary O’Neill scoring the second goal after I slipped. To go to the Aviva the following year and win it was brilliant ... So relieved after fluffing the peno, considering I scored seven in a row in the lead up to the final.

"After missing, I thought: ‘Oh no, don’t let this happen again.’ Ciaran Kelly was the hero and it was a fantastic day for both fans and players. It’d been a long time since Sligo had won the cup.”

Back-to-back FAI Cup success saw out 2011, preceding a 35-year wait for the Premier Division title to return to the westerners.

“I played all the matches up to the last six of the season. I wanted to participate in the big games, as the buzz was building and the crowds were getting bigger, but I broke my foot against Dundalk and missed out.

"It was tortuous and you don’t feel as part of it, if you’re not togged out after winning the league. Looking back over the season, I contributed a lot and was just disappointing not to be there at the end.”

A third FAI Cup in 2013 and the ensuing year’s Setanta Sports Cup continued Sligo’s accumulation of silverware, until 2015 concluded with the Connaught side in unfamiliar circumstances; empty-handed.

“2015 was a bad season, overall. The feel about the club wasn’t good, with management chopping and changing … It was like pulling teeth trying to sort out contracts. We had a kid and it makes you realise that there are other opportunities to pursue and start sorting your life out after football.

"You look back on the service you give clubs and it can go in a flash. Fighting relegation wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t happy going into training and games.

"If I’m not happy and find training a chore, I need to pull the plug because it’s not fair on the team or the club. It was a hard choice giving up what you love and always dreamt of. I achieved all I could at Sligo and I’m grateful that they gave me the opportunity.”   

Announcing his retirement in early 2016, Keane surprisingly reappeared at Dundalk six months later. In an unusual twist of fate, he featured in the final half-dozen league games of a Premier Division-winning season for the club he broke his foot against in 2012, which ensured his absence for Sligo’s identical title run-in. 

“When I finished in February 2016, I was happy. I didn’t miss football … Well, once or twice when the crowd at Sligo’s games were good. I bumped into Stephen Kenny and he said: ‘Keep yourself fit.’ I was playing Gaelic football and enjoying my freedom away from soccer … Not being tied-up every weekend.

"Dundalk went on that run and the European games brought back memories. Then one Sunday morning, Stephen rang and they’d just qualified for the Europa League. Going through my head was: ‘Jesus, they could get Man United.’ There was a good atmosphere about Dundalk and it was something I wanted to be part of.

"The more I trained with them, the more I got back my love of the game. Stephen believed in me and thanks to him, I played the last six games for Dundalk in the conclusion to the championship because Sean Gannon picked up an injury. It was mad because four months earlier I was retired and four years before, I missed the last six games for Sligo.”

Instead of linking up again with the Lilywhites for the 2017 campaign, Alan’s priorities lay away from football, resulting in a short-term contract with Northern Irish side Crusaders.

“I spoke to Stephen Kenny in January and he wanted to sign me back, but I’d something lined up outside of football, in the fire service.. That was coming up in May and he required me for the year. I told him that leaving halfway through the season wouldn’t be good.

"One of Crusaders’ players got injured and they came in for me. That was only until the end of April, so it was a no-brainer. I enjoyed my time there, but endured lots of travelling between Sligo and Belfast for games.

"I trained alone and found it difficult to motivate myself. I didn’t feel good about going up, getting a wage and only turning up for matches. It’s a great club and everybody was excellent to me.

"It was a job to me and one I had to do until the end of April. I hoped to cap it off with a title, but we were pipped on the last day by Linfield. Once I left, that was my football days well and truly over.”