The Keepmoat faithful never thought they would wake up to the sensational headline of “Keegan joins Doncaster Rovers.”
That’s exactly what happened at the start of the week and despite all the symbolism, the man in question – Irish midfielder Paul Keegan and not Doncaster’s most famous son – is just relieved to escape plenty of newsprint and negative stories regarding his former side, crisis-hit
Bohemians, back in his native Dublin having been handed a lifeline in decidedly more benign waters in South Yorkshire.
League of Ireland outfit Bohs have endured the proverbial rollercoaster ride in the League of Ireland over the past few years, sweeping up plenty of silverware ahead of a grave financial tumult late last year that the club is still in the throes of.
Keegan, 26, who joined Bohs from Drogheda United in 2009, is one of the lucky ones to find footballing sanctuary – having joined Rovers for the rest of the season following a trial towards the end of last year.
But a host of team-mates are still caught up in the fiscal maelstrom at the club, with many contracted players currently feeling the pinch.
On his sense of relief at heading across the Irish Sea away from Bohs,
Keegan, who also had trials with Rovers’ Championship rivals Reading last year, said: “Yes it is (a relief). I was there for two years and we won two leagues and several cups; we basically won everything basically that was going.
“But then all of sudden, there were the problems financially, which was disappointing. It’s disappointing for the players that are still there as well as they are owed wages and stuff like that.
“The players have gone seven weeks through the Christmas period with no
wages and that’s no way to live.
“I understand the club’s financial situation and I know the state the (Irish) economy is in, but is there any job where employees would be asked to go without wages for seven wages and do nothing about it? It’s
“I am happy to move on, although I had a great time there and enjoyed myself. I’ve got out of there and hopefully can do well over here now.”
And on following in the footsteps of his famous namesake Kevin, actually rejected by hometown club Doncaster ahead of reaching international stardom with Liverpool, England and Hamburg, he quipped: “If I can do what he did, it won’t be bad!”
While busy acquainting himself with his new surroundings this week – Keegan is no stranger to the Broad Acres, having had a spell at the start of his career with Leeds United.
And he isn’t short of a familiar face or two at Rovers, where Elland Road products Sam Hird, Martin Woods and Matt Kilgallon currently reside.
And the ex-Ireland youth and under-21 skipper, who also had a brief spell up the road from Rovers at Scunthorpe United before heading back over the water to Ireland to make his name, is now concentrating on achieving his aim – earning a longer-term deal come season’s end and a second shot at the big time in England.
On how Rovers’ interest hardened up, Keegan said: “I trained for a few days at the end of November and then I played a game. They kind of
liked me or whatever and thought I’d done well and we kept in touch.
“They were waiting to see what would happen with (Bohemians) players and then they came to me and said: ‘Would you be interested in coming until the end of the season?’ and I was delighted to come over.
“It’s a good chance for me to come and get some games and do well for the team.
“Playing in England is where I want to be and it’s a better level and that’s exactly why I wanted to come back over here. It’s a good chance to see if I can do well over here again.
“If I can get in there playing and proving myself to the manager, hopefully he’ll see I can do well in this team and who knows what can happen at the end of the season.
“All I can do is go out there and take the chance to prove myself and do well.
“As soon as I came here, I saw it was a close-knit club and friendly, in terms of the backroom staff and everyone kind of knows everyone and it’s a great thing for someone coming in as it makes it feel more homely. It’s made it easy for me.
“I also know Sam, Martin and Matt Kilgallon from my Leeds days and that makes it all the more easier in coming to a new club in terms of knowing a few players.
“I know quite a few players over here (in England). There’s a lot of Irish lads dotted around the league and there’s obviously the lads I played with at Leeds.
At Wolves for instance, who Doncaster played the other night, there’s also Stephen Ward, Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt and they are all friends who I have played with over the years. There’s also all the Irish lads at Leeds who are still playing, such as Ian Harte.”
With the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds United are household names back in Ireland, with each followed by a passionate fanbase numbering thousands, the general interest in all footballing matters in England remains strong.
And just as Rovers’ name resonates across the length and breadth of this country stands as a template for pure football, their stylistic approach has not been lost on many football people across Irish Sea – including Keegan.
And as a midfielder, he is delighted to continue his footballing education at such an avowed finishing school as Rovers, where innovation and technical excellence are preached on a daily basis by
Sean O’Driscoll at the club’s training ground at Cantley Park.
Keegan said: “Doncaster have a good name in terms of passing the ball and the manager wants to get it down and play and do all the right things. A lot of people know that.
“As a midfield player who wants to be involved on the ball and pass it, it’s only a good thing. You don’t just want to be chasing up and down with a long ball game. So the team suits me.
“I usually play as a holding midfield player, but I don’t mind getting forward and the other side of it. I’ll be happy to play wherever.
“With the players here, I’m sure the club can do very well.”