Paul Keegan: To stabilise the club is a good thing, but the aim is to get promotedSun, Jun 09 2019
Two stints in England, regular silverware with Drogheda United and Bohemians, in addition to vying for promotion to the Premier Division during his latter career - Paul Keegan has plenty to tell when he sits down and talks to ExtraTime.ie
As a young player, Paul spent five years on Leeds United's books, but even though he failed to make a first team appearance, considers his time at Elland Road as hugely beneficial: "That was my education in football. A lot of people say you came back or didn't break through, but working with world-class footballers is the best way to learn. At the time, Leeds were a top Premiership team. They got into the semi-final of the Champions League and were signing players like Rio Ferdinand and Robbie Keane. For me to learn off those players was invaluable. There were a lot of Irish players there as well, so it was like home and there was no homesickness."
With just a brief loan spell at Scunthorpe United under his belt, the young midfielder returned home in 2005, teaming up with Drogheda United, where he enjoyed FAI Cup, Setanta Sports Cup (twice) and Premier Division title success during a four-year stay: "The chairman was such a lovely man and gave everything to the club, to bring them forward. He was someone who really loved football and Drogheda. We had a very high profile time in Europe under Paul Doolin, who was a good manager and got the best out of us, working us really hard. We won a lot of silverware and I was a young player amongst some really good and experienced ones."
Switching to Bohemians in 2009, the following year Keegan had the honour of captaining a League of Ireland X1 against Manchester United in a friendly to mark the opening of the revamped Aviva Stadium: "I'd already played in the old Aviva, in the cup final for Drogheda, but it was great to lead the team out against Man United. To invite your family and friends to watch you play in front of 50,000 people against some of the best players in the world was a fantastic experience."
Paul continued his impressive medal count, with the League of Ireland Cup, Premier Division and Setanta Sports Cup all captured in his two seasons at Dalymount Park, until financial difficulties witnessed a parting of the ways: "They were struggling to pay wages and willing to let everybody leave. Pat Fenlon was the manager and we were very successful. I wouldn't have left, but always wanted to go back to England and prove myself after coming back after Leeds."
That opportunity arose when Doncaster Rovers took on the Irishman in early 2011. Initially released upon expiry of his first contract, Paul re-signed two months later and went on to spend six and a half years in South Yorkshire overall.
"They have to tell people after a certain length of time whether they're staying or leaving. Dean Saunders came in as manager and I don't think they knew what they were doing with anyone. He wasn't sure what to do with me, but I re-signed and went on to win League One. Dean put a good squad together, but went to Wolves in January and Brian Flynn and Rob Jones took over. It went down to the last game of the season against Brentford ... We had to beat them. They missed a penalty and we went down the other end and scored."
In the summer of 2017, Keegan came home once again - this time bolstering Waterford's efforts to return to the Premier Division following a ten-year absence, which they ultimately achieved.
"I came in with around a dozen games to go. The lads had done really well and were top of the league, but Cobh Ramblers were very close. We had a good blend of experienced and young players, who went on to do well. There was pressure to win it because Waterford's budget was the biggest and had invested the most. Pat Fenlon came in and brought in Alan Reynolds. When I came into the team, we were expected to win every game and get promoted. At big clubs, there's targets and thankfully, we achieved those."
Before the current domestic season, Paul found himself putting pen to paper for another campaign in the First Division by linking up with Bray Wanderers: "The plan is to rebuild the club and the team. Niall O'Driscoll has come in and put a lot of money into the team and the facilities. To stabilise the club is a good thing, but the aim is to get promoted. We're hoping to be up there at the end of the season, but who knows where that will be. It's a wide-open competition and a lot of teams are beating each other. If you're up there with seven or eight games to go, let's see where that takes us."