When Colm Collins went about putting together his Clare senior football backroom team for the 2019 campaign, one of the men he recruited was former All-Ireland winner with Kerry Declan O’Keeffe.
The Rathmore native is now resident of Quin, with the Garda lining out in the green and red before hanging up his boots for the last time. He won two All-Ireland’s between the sticks for the Kingdom, and was chosen as the best in the land with an All-Star award on both occasions too.
He is now imparting his wisdom on the current crop of Clare net-minders, with Rob Eyres, Eamon Tubridy and Pierce DeLoughery all working under his close watch.
He says when the call came to be part of the Clare set-up, he had no hesitation in taking up the offer.
“The call came around last October from Colm asking would I get involved, and naturally enough I was delighted to. I’m living locally for a long time now and I have been admiring Colm’s work over the last few years and how committed the players are which I was very impressed with so it’s great to be on board. You have great leaders involved like Gary and Cillian Brennan, Kevin Hartnett, Gordon Kelly and all these lads. They’re self-motivated players and they want to better themselves all the time so it’s great to work with a group like that. There’s a real opportunity there to bring in younger players too and we have seen a number of those this year so it’s all very positive. Everyone knows their roles in the camp and a lot of it player driven. There’s a serious backroom team there and everyone is working and has their shoulder to the wheel. It’s brilliant to be involved in a team where everyone is pulling in the same direction” he said.
O’Keeffe admits the role of a goalkeeper has changed drastically since his time guarding the net, and he feels that the position is now one of the key roles within a team.
“I was at a coaching conference in Kildysart last weekend and I was reflecting on just how much it has changed since my time. Back then, it was just kick the ball as far up the field as you could, but now the goalkeeper has to be much more of a footballer. He has to be able to find his man with kick-outs or find certain zones and it’s very intriguing to be working with three or four goalkeepers on that and you get to work with outfield players too. The game has changed totally in that regard and the goalkeeper has become one of the most important players on the field. Stephen Cluxton gets a lot of the credit for that really in terms of changing the game over the last few years. Now we are learning from other codes in terms of developing set plays and the kick-out is really a restart in terms of the game. There’s a lot of analysis done on that and we are no different to any other team. We would like to go after the opposition and I am sure the opposition would like to go after us. It’s a work in progress which will go on throughout the year” he noted.
Victory over Cork last time out sees Clare sitting on three points after the opening three games in Division Two, with promotion and relegation still very much a reality for each of the eight teams. O’Keeffe feels it’s been a positive start to the campaign despite the loss to Donegal on the opening day.
He said: “We were disappointed with the first day out where we put ourselves in the position with ten minutes to that we could have won the game but just fell away. Maybe that was down to a lack of experience and that game also possibly came a week too soon for some of our more senior players. It was great to get the result against Armagh, especially after losing Dermot Coughlan so early that day. We got a great win then against Cork and there were some really pleasing aspects that day so hopefully we can build on that now at the weekend. It’s such a tight division at the moment, we are on three points and the leaders are on four. The way the league is gone, if you lost next Sunday, then you could be looking up at a lot of teams above you. Sunday is very important again to try and get a result. It won’t be easy, we have to travel to Newbridge but we are very hopeful we can get a result there. We will be travelling with more than hope really but we know what lies in store. They have some of their more seasoned players coming back and there will be a kickback because they’ll be smarting after losing to Fermanagh. We are coming out of a great result against Cork in Cusack Park and it’s a case of rolling up the sleeves again now and trying to dig out another two points” he concluded.