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Rising Leitrim Star Has Put Pedal To The Metal In Sigerson Cup

Rising Leitrim Star Has Put Pedal To The Metal In Sigerson Cup
PJ Browne
By PJ Browne
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In the glow of St Mary's Kiltoghert's victory over Mohill in last October's Leitrim SFC final, Paul Keaney's thoughts turned to the decider two years previous when they lost to the same opponent.

"We came in a point up at half-time in that 2020 final and let the foot off the pedal and we ended up losing," Keaney told the Leitrim Observer.

St Mary's didn't make the same mistake again, and Keaney hasn't lifted his foot from the gas since. He was Man of the Match in that final, St Mary's first title win in nine years, scoring six of their 0-11 total in the one-point victory.

Over the past month, he has been one of the star players for a University of Limerick side which has reached the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup semi-finals. They face DCU at Netwatch Cullen Park on Wednesday evening. (The game will be streamed live on the TG4 YouTube channel.)


The midfielder, a reliable free-taker, scored four points for UL in the opening round victory over UCC, and was named Electric Ireland Player of the Week for the performance. He hit four again as UL lost to TU Dublin on penalties in the second round, and two as they qualified for the quarter-finals with a third round win against SETU Carlow.

The quarter-final against the University of Galway was a rematch of last year's final. This time it was UL who emerged victorious after extra-time. Keaney scored seven points, though he was sent off in the final minutes of normal time after being shown a second yellow card.

"Paul had a string of starring performances at midfield throughout the campaign," St Mary's member Damien Butler tells Balls about Keaney's influence last year.


"He was instrumental in St. Mary's landing our first county title since 2013.

"He has a super skill set, kicks so comfortably off both feet and has a great pair of hands. He lives just beside our club grounds in Carrick-on-Shannon and is a regular on the pitch with a bag of footballs honing his skills.

"Paul was part of a strong bunch of underage players that came through the club underage system winning everything all the way through.


"They also won an All-Ireland basketball title with Carrick-on-Shannon Community School. Paul would have been the main man on these teams. He's a super basketballer.

"He comes from a sports-mad house and is the oldest of four boys. His dad Ivan is a former St. Mary's footballer and is heavily involved in underage basketball coaching. Paul's uncle Ollie McGuinness (his mother Orla's brother) was a regular for the club and for Leitrim in the early noughties. Paul has a good pedigree is what I'm saying."

paul keaney leitrim ul sigerson cup

19 November 2022; Liam Gaughan of Tourlestrane in action against Paul Keaney of St Mary’s Kiltoghert during the AIB Connacht GAA Football Senior Club Championship Semi-Final match between Tourlestrane and St Mary's Kiltoghert at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-On-Shannon, Leitrim. Photo by Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Breifne Earley, host of the Leitrim GAA Podcast and founder of FinalWhistle.ie, sees Keaney as someone who "always just does the simple stuff really, really well".

"You don't see the big flashy [plays]," he says.


"He just goes about his business, and connects his team together, and then consistently hits the frees as well, along with taking some really impressive long-range scores.

"He really leads [St Mary's] on, and he's grown into that over the last couple of years. St Marys have been there or thereabouts for the last few seasons. In 2019, they came on the scene and surprised a load of people with a very young team, most of the lads still U18, and in their first year of adult football.

"There's a scatter of them who have come up together both through the club and the county scene. They've really pushed St Mary's from being outsiders four or five years ago to being one of the best teams in the county."


Keaney made his senior bow with Leitrim last year, making four substitute appearances and one start in the league, but didn't feature in the Connacht Championship or the Tailteann Cup.


Already this year, he scored two points off the bench in Leitrim's opening round National Football League victory over Waterford, and then started against London at the weekend.

Though he is a fourth year business studies student, and clearly has the talent to play top tier college football, this is his first season featuring in the Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup.

The value which inter-county managers place on third level Gaelic games varies widely but Leitrim boss Andy Moran is clearly in the pro camp.

"I wrote about my time in IT Sligo," Moran told the Leitrim GAA Podcast in December.

"What we learnt off a guy called Paul Finlay, who you saw still dancing around the Monaghan and Ulster Championship [recently...]

"Everyone thinks they're training until they see someone practising more than them. Then they go, 'Oh right, I can do more'. You're constantly learning. You do that through observation.

"For Leitrim, a couple of guys might have had a bit of a complex about going out playing because they're from Leitrim. We're trying to get these barriers off the players."

2 March 2007; Captains Mark Lynch, UUJ, and Andy Moran, Sligo IT, shake hands before the Sigerson Cup semi-final, at Queen's University, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

Moran felt Keaney and his inter-county teammate Donal Casey of Leitrim Gaels would make "a massive difference" to the UL team. He's been proven right.

'He could have a big season for Leitrim this year'

"Playing Sigerson down in UL, himself and Donal Casey have come on leaps and bounds," says Earley.

"I know Andy, from his own experiences with colleges football, pushed a load of lads into that. Paul and Donal, the fact that they are straight into that UL team that are competitive at the upper end of the Sigerson Cup, tells you all you need to know about the talent of the lads in Leitrim. It's just maybe a bit of self-belief that's been lacking.

"I can only think of a handful of Leitrim lads over the years who've played Sigerson. Despite being in college, they've focused on Leitrim, or it hasn't been a priority, or Leitrim have encouraged them to not be available for Sigerson, potentially - I don't know the specifics on that. I think Andy has taken a different stance on that and encouraged guys to go into Sigerson and college football.

"These lads are now beginning to realise that they can play, and they're getting exposure to better players across the whole range of the team. It's lifted them, and their awareness of where they fit into the whole thing.

"We see younger lads now with county minors and u15s looking at these lads playing Sigerson and going 'Oh, Sigerson is an option for me'. 20 years ago, when I was in college, there was a load of Leitrim lads playing Sigerson, whether it was Sligo IT or DCU who had a very strong Leitrim contingent. It's been a very rare occurrence in recent seasons."

6 January 2023; Paul Keaney of Leitrim during the Connacht FBD League Round 1 match between Leitrim and Galway at the NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome in Bekan, Mayo. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

For Leitrim, Earley says Keaney has been "knocking on the door" to make a breakthrough.

"I think he'd tell you he was ready two or three years ago," says Earley.

"He's a very confident young lad who knows his ability and has no problem putting the work in to get there. He knows his worth as well in terms of what he brings to a team, and a squad.

"If everything goes right, and he stays injury free, he could have a big season for Leitrim this year. He has an opportunity to come through and be part of a really good, young Leitrim team. That side is very young. There's very few of them over 24, 25. It's a very competitive team, and he'll have to fight for a spot.

"Population and the economy comes into it as well. Someone like Paul Keaney, will he stay around or will opportunities open up for him elsewhere? We've seen so many players down through the years, for non-footballing reasons, being forced to be outside of the Leitrim loop. Hopefully, he'll be available to Leitrim for a long, long time."

2023 Electric Ireland Sigerson Cup semi-final draw

February 8th, Netwatch Cullen Park, Carlow

6:15pm: UL vs DCU

8pm: TU Dublin vs UCC

See Also: Colleges Camogie Trophy Named In Honour Of Ashling Murphy

Ashling Murphy playing for Kilcormac/Killoughey



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