Keaney leaves a powerful legacy that Dublin hurling will forever be indebted to 1 week ago

Keaney leaves a powerful legacy that Dublin hurling will forever be indebted to

Conal Keaney picks up the phone. That he might fall behind he has only 20 minutes to chat.

Things are good. He's retired now but you wouldn't know it, not by the shape of him, not by the busy schedule of a man who hasn't enough minutes in the day.

Business has taken him to the Phoenix Park, where he's been living, breathing and driving his own bike company for the last decade.  It takes a different kind of breed, a hungry, ambitious and insatiable sort to set up a business, but then again, these were the defining characteristics of his 20 year Dublin GAA career.

It takes him back to 2001, when as a teenager in his leaving cert year, Keaney made his losing debut in the Leinster hurling championship against Laois. You could call it a sign of things to come, in the short term anyway, for a prodigious youngster playing an unfashionable game.

"The hurling set-up wasn't the best back when I started," he says now, taking a time-out from the day-job.

"There wasn't many lads turning up to hurling training of a Tuesday and things weren't prepared well. I mean, it was a battle to make sure we had sliotars and even just to get lads hurls. Then you're going football training on Thursday and everything is done, there's about 30 lads ready to go, cones out, loads of footballs..."

A 'no-brainer' really and blessed by his arrival were the Dublin footballers, who won five Leinster titles in the next seven years. And of course, it would have been the safer bet to stay there for a few more too but Keaney's move, as long as the county board got their act together, was never going to be a permanent one.

It wasn't about success or glory days you see. The most important thing about 2004 was that this man didn't even have a choice, given the sorry state Dublin hurling was in and that in itself put it up to the county board like never before. If you want a hurling team, you'd better start acting like it.

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Anthony Daly's arrival, six years later, was the first sign of daylight and though Dublin hurling was still a long way off, it was the challenge that excited this loyal and restless soul the most.

"I enjoyed both hurling and football. I always wanted to go back to play hurling at some stage and I didn't want to leave it too long, because wanted to still have some relatively good years left to give it. I was threatening to do it so many times, but I just had to make a call on it at some stage," Keaney tells SportsJOE.

"I had spoken to Anthony. I knew what he was bringing to the table, and I knew the set-up was improving so there really was no better time to go."

Looking back now, you could talk about that League win against Kilkenny in 2011, you could reminisce your way onto the glorious summer of 2013, when the former minnows beat Kilkenny and then Galway to win Leinster. You could go onto curse that loss to Cork, that painful defeat that ended their realest All-Ireland dream yet but if you want to evaluate this career, then it won't be done over any one day in the sun.

If it's a legacy you're looking for, then take a young Dub in 2021. For them, Dublin hurling is in a much different place than it was for this teenager 20 years earlier and to be able to say you helped change the seasons, that's a powerful thing.

"The shift in mindset was huge. I mean, when I first got involved, the set-up wasn't great at all but when I went back the second time it was totally different, Anthony and his backroom team had everything done, the county board were behind them, it was just a completely different situation and on a par with the football - it was professional and that's what every player wants, that's the way it is now too which is a big thing that can only benefit Dublin hurling in the long run," Keaney says with typical modesty.

Regrets, there are none. The dual dream just wouldn't have worked and by the time Dublin were winning football All-Irelands, his heart was set on the hurling dream.

"I was too old at that stage top give it a try. When you're young, it's a bit easier to chop and change but when you get a bit older, you need to be consistently playing the hurling to make sure your skills are up there. I needed to give it more time, because I had missed a few years with it. You know, there's nothing to get over, you make your decision and that's it. I mean, who's to know that I would have been involved anyway? I'm just delighted that we went on and a had a few successful years ourselves with the hurling, and I'd never look back on anything like that with regrets..."

For now, the wheel keeps turning. The Dublin days are over but Ballyboden St Enda's have more to gain.

"I wouldn't be a fitness fanatic," the 38-year-old says, "but I like to keep myself in good shape. With Ballyboden, there was never really an off-season - it was from the county, straight into the club, often into the latter stages of the championship. I was always kept going, and while I wouldn't be a fanatic, that was just the busy nature of it, and I certainly wouldn't be one for sitting around and letting the weight pile-on - not at the minute, maybe that'll change now!

"I'll try go on forever but it depends how long they want me."

Nothing changes, for this eternal goer, not even the lines on the face.