Keen-an to get the job done

By Katrina Brennan

TOM Keenan is known for being the ‘messer’ and ‘joker’ in the squad but when it comes to hurling he is as focused, driven and serious about success as anyone in Joe Baldwin’s squad.

The energy he exudes when talking about the game is rare in my experience. Maybe that comes from being so close to losing it all when he suffered a serious leg injury a couple of years ago.

Keenan was playing football for his club Kinawley when he jumped for a ball and landed awkwardly, resulting in a dislocated knee, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), a posterior cruciate ligament injury (PCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) damage, as well as ripping the hamstring off the bone.

As Keenan says, “my leg was in half at one stage” and the thoughts of playing football and hurling seemed a long way away.

“When your life is GAA; when you eat, sleep and breathe GAA, when you play hurling, when you play football from when you literally could kick a ball, you could lift a stick, it’s very hard to say ‘right, I’m not playing this again’.

“You’re going to do everything, and I did try and do everything to get back on that pitch because as Joe (Baldwin) always says, ‘it’s what we were born to do’.

“It’s the same with the football, do it for as long as you can as often as you can. And the hunger to get back just simply came from – it’s what I do, it’s who I am. Without it, I just have nothing,” said the 2019 St Michael’s Hogan Cup winner.

Keenan’s rehabilitation took 18 months and he remembers the first game back, a championship match with Lisbellaw hurlers;

“Just to touch grass was unbelievable,” he recalls. “You’re always looking the best from yourself and you’re always saying ‘God, I could’ve done better there’ , sometimes you have to take a step back and look at where you came from,” said the 23-year-old.

“I’m just so proud of myself, nearly, for being in the picking area anyway, being close to getting a run out in Croke Park, all being well if I’m performing well at training. Just so, so, so happy to be able to even put on a jersey.”

That resilience is something Keenan has witnessed in many walks of life, not least at home. His father Frank suffered a heart attack nine years ago while he was holidaying in Portugal. Complications after the treatment resulted in a brain injury and his mobility was impacted, meaning he is now in a wheelchair.

“You talk about resilience, that man would show you resilience,” said Tom.

“What he has done himself, and I don’t like to give him credit, don’t get me wrong,” he laughed, “but he’s hung about in fairness to him.

“He has seen some brilliant things from me and Eimear (Tom’s sister and Fermanagh ladies footballer) between the Hogan and the MacRory, Eimear has got an Ulster All Star, not to blow smoke up our ar*e but yeah, a resilient man.”

And Frank will be in GAA Headquarters this Sunday too with the rest of the family. The last time they watched their son and brother play there was in 2021 and what a day that was. Keenan hit a hat-trick as Fermanagh beat Cavan to lift the cup.

“I have to admit, I’ve had my day in Croke Park – if I get another day like that, I don’t know what I’d do!

“I’m just so glad I have that always to remember but there’s no point in looking back, you have to look to the future, you have to look to the next one.

“Obviously, a hat-trick would be brilliant but just to get over the line and get another Lory Meagher, and get out of the Lory Meagher and get onto where we should be which is in the Nickey Rackard and beyond.”

Standing between Fermanagh and silverware is old foes Longford who they drew with a few weeks ago in their final round game. Joe Baldwin’s side came back from nine points down at the break to finish level. But, it wasn’t the first time they’ve had to pull a result out of the ‘fire’ this season.

The character they’ve shown is down to a ‘ferocious togetherness,’ says Keenan.

“We work as hard as we can for each other. No one wants to let anyone else down. We know ourselves, when we’re under the cosh; he’s going to do it for me, I’m going to do it for him and that’s what has took us over the line,” he explained.

This weekend will be no different, with another close game anticipated;

“What we do on the pitch now in training, that’s going to be the difference. We have to work harder than them in training, we have to put in the hard graft in the gym, we have to do the wall ball sessions. Just do everything we can.

“Joe talks about the ‘grain of sand’, just every little grain of sand. We want to look like Bundoran coming into Croke Park, that’s the way we want to be.”

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