"It's something every young kid should aspire to be" - Keogan still the go-to-man for Meath
Of all the players Paddy O'Rourke soldiered with, over the course of a nine year Meath career, Donal Keogan is the last man standing.
So apart from his uncle Colm, who's the manager of the team, that's his only real window into a Meath squad that is dominated by younger players.
O'Rourke can't say he's surprised about Keogan's longevity. The Rathkenny club-man was earmarked as something special from 2012, when he made his first championship start against Carlow.
He has started every Championship game Meath have played since, making 150 appearances for the county in the process.
Keogan made such an impression in his early days that, at the age of 23, Mick O'Dowd asked him to captain the county and at 32 now, he's still the their natural leader. Some things never change.
A qualified chemist, Keogan now works as a scientist, and in Meath, it really is a case of if you want something done, you ask a busy man.
"Donal Keogan is the last of them involved, that you'd have shared a dressing room with, have had good times on the pitch with and you'd share a WhatsApp group with," says O'Rourke.
"Donal came in in 2012 against Carlow, in the Leinster championship.
"From then on, he was our go-to leader in training, he was in his second or third season with Meath."
"He was our go-to man in games.
"He's phenomenal to be still at the same level, the level of dedication and performance when he puts on that Meath jersey, it's something every young kid should aspire to be," says O'Rourke.
O'Rourke's uncle Colm has long been an admirer of Keogan's and it's no wonder that the veteran captains his team.
On top of that, it's hardly any surprise that O'Rourke has tried to bring a common-sense approach to the fray - one of the tell-tale signs being that that he lets players play with their clubs if they're not making the county team.
"There was a great feel-good factor around the county, with the guys that were in Colm's back-room team," says O'Rourke.
"They're men that did it in the Meath jersey, they walked the walk.
"With Sean in the background too, there's nothing but positives there. They trawled the county to get as many faces and as much talent that hadn't been seen, which was great too.
"You've clubs supplying a player or two, that have never done so before or maybe they weren't spotted or weren't getting a chance.
"There's players in there from junior, intermediate and senior clubs, there's no one or two big feeder clubs at the top end of the senior championship. There's a nice spread of players. And of course then, they get to go back and play for their clubs whenever there is a bit of down-time."
"Who would you prefer to listen to, Joe Brolly or Pat Spillane?"
Colm O'Rourke takes on Quickfire and the Meath man doesn't shy away from the hard questions 🔰 pic.twitter.com/rukrHsV37e
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) July 31, 2020
"If they're maybe not on the 26 or the 28, they're released early in the week to play important league games for their clubs, which is important to keep everybody happy, it's important to keep the clubs happy, to keep everybody in good harmony."
Meanwhile, O'Rourke says that the Tailteann Cup has been great for Meath, and will give these young players invaluable experience.
"Nothing beats the satisfaction involved in jumping on a bus after winning the game. To build on that, every couple of weeks is massive. A lot of the times when we won a game, we maybe lost our next one - you could have had your whole season wrapped up in a few games. So for these lads to be playing, in line with an All-Ireland semi-final on after them, that'll be huge for them.