AS Derry bid for a first All-Ireland minor title since 2002, they face Kerry - who are hunting for a fourth successive title. Peter Keane is the man entrusted with keeping Tom Markham in the Kingdom. He spoke with Damian Stack...
THERE'S a steely determination to Peter Keane. He’s what a certain type of person might describe as goal-oriented. Most likely he’d describe it himself as a simple determination to get the job done, to do it and to do it right.
If that gives the impression that he’s all business – he is a business man after all – then that’s not quite true either. If this is a labour it’s a labour of love. There’s a passion that drives him.
Even as he holds his cards close to the vest in these pre-match and post-match interviews, you occasionally get hints of the man behind the calm facade. He’s got a devilish sense of humour, dry certainly, the man can deadpan with the best of them.
When it comes to his football though the Cahersiveen man is deadly serious. His record speaks for itself. At every team he’s taken on he’s had a positive effect – St Marys, Legion and the Kerry minors.
He stands on the cusp of doing something nobody has ever done before – leading a county to their fourth All Ireland minor title in-a-row. He’s already made history by guiding them to a fourth successive final.
Keane, of course, would be the first to point out that one year of minor football has nothing to do with the next or the last. He’d be the first to point out that Jack O’Connor led the Kingdom for the two previous campaigns.
He’d be the first to point out the work done at underage level with both the development squads and the clubs, but the fact remains, he’s had to deliver the goods and so far that’s what he’s done.
One thing that stands out about his two years in the job is just how consistent the level of performance has been. His Kerry teams have rarely turned in a poor performance – bad patches here and there certainly, but nothing major.
"You are always worried with minors because their environment is more fickle so various things can happen more so than a senior player," he says somewhat surprisingly, at least at first glance. Once he explains what he means, however, it makes total sense.
"No matter what you are at there are things you want to change. Something you are tinkering with. Some guy you were banking on playing well did not perform, but somebody else did. That is the ebb and flow of every panel, every team, every group that you are working with and that is where you look at consistency.
"Outsiders may look at the overall performance – yeah they did well, but I would be looking at say did number 2 do well today? Could he be gone back or is he not or maybe the lad in the other corner?
"So management are never fully satisfied we are always looking for that little bit extra and this group is no different."
Never satisfied. Always striving. It explains a lot about why he’s been so successful. You do wonder whether, as manager, he feels a certain amount of pressure to deliver the goods for the young men in his charge.
"Those young fellows want to deliver for themselves," he says straight up.
"On a personal level pressure does not exist. The four in-a-row is a historical thing, but you do get a kick out of dealing with the young lads. You just love the craic and banter that goes on in a dressing room.
"There is plenty of banter in our dressing room because they are a great bunch of young fellows as were the guys last year and some great characters among them. You also get a sense of enjoyment out of dealing with them, interacting with them, coaching them, bringing them on if you can.
"You also are going through the journey with them where they get an opportunity to play in Pairc Uí Rinn and then they get the opportunity to get to play here in the stadium on a beautiful day.
"A Munster Final day with Killarney hopping. They then got to play in Portlaoise in the quarter-final against Louth and then playing the semi-final in Croke Park. Now they have the opportunity of playing in a final in Croke Park and pushing on from there."
In Derry the Kingdom face probably their most dangerous foe to date in an All Ireland final. Galway pushed Kerry hard last year, but in the end they found a way. Donegal and Tipperary were seen off much more straightforwardly.
Keane is probably what you’d call a principled pragmatist. He won’t send his team out to play Derry with a naive game-plan, neither will he abandon his basic philosophy of the game.
"I like to play football it’s as simple as that," he says.
"We try and go out and score more than we concede, but we play football because I believe that fellas would prefer to play on a team that plays football than a team that plays dour negative stuff."
There’s little chance Kerry will play dour negative stuff in Sunday’s final. There’s little chance Derry will either. It seems likely to be a good, tough game of football. A real battle. No quarter asked or given. Just the type of challenge the Kerry manager would relish. Whatever happens he’ll be ready for it and he’ll have his team ready too.
Wrote this piece using quotes about Derry for the main paper as a news story:
Kerry minor boss Peter Keane is fully aware of the threat posed by Derry to his side in this Sunday’s All Ireland minor football championship final
The Ulster men have had an impressive campaign so far seeing off, amongst others, Tyrone, Dublin and Sligo along the way. Damian McErlain’s men have real credentials and genuine designs on the Tom Markham Cup, which has made its home in the Kingdom for the last three years in succession.
"What I have seen of Derry is that they are very good," Keane said.
"They are very solid. They have a lot of experience and they have colleges experience as well, where the likes of Clare whom we met early in the year would not have had that.
"These fellas have been around and a share of them has been involved last year. They are very physically big – they have a fella [Padraig] McGrogan who is very strong – they have [Conor] McCluskey at full-back, they have the McWilliams twins [Oisin and Lorcan], two very good players and a lad called [Patrick] Quigg who played against us last year and was very good.
"So Derry are a fine side and if you talk about storing things up – they were beaten by Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final over the past two years and now they are meeting us in the final.
"They will want to win this game no question about it so that they are fresh after beating the Dubs in the cauldron of a full Croke Park so they will be a huge test for us and I am expecting a battle."
Given how strong the Kingdom seem to be up front there’s a school of thought which suggests that Derry will approach the game with a certain amount of caution. Keane, however, is unsure about that.
"They may very well," he said.
"But if you look at Derry they have put up big scores along the way. They kicked 0-17 against Dublin the last day; they put up 0-18 against a much heralded Tyrone team. They posted 3-17 against Antrim, put up 1-22 against Cavan, 1-13 against Sligo so they are a free scoring team as well."
A lot of the talk in the build-up to this game will inevitably focus on David Clifford.
"He is a fantastic player, there is no question about that," his manager said.
"He is our captain and he has a great temperament and that is one thing you may I have heard me say about him in the past. He is a great leader for the players and he is a very good team player.
"As well as being a very good player he is an exceptionally good team player which may be sometimes lost in translation. I don’t think college has made a difference because David is just very solid individual."
As for how Derry might choose to deal with the threat he poses?
"That is something for Derry to decide. So far different teams have done different things. All we can do is prepare the best we can to get the most out of our team, not necessarily out of one individual but out of the whole team. So we will try and deal with that in whatever way it comes."
One area where Derry might have an advantage over Kerry is in the number of genuine, honest-to-goodness battles they’ve been involved with along the way. Kerry by contrast have won their games by an average of almost fourteen points.
"Derry has had stern challenges so they have put up big scores," Keane continued.
"I would have felt that the game we played against Cork that night was a good test for us and don’t think that the scoreboard did the game justice. It was a cracking game and a good test for us so the problem about concluding that we have won our games easy is that you never know that until you actually get there."
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