GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Mark Keane: Cork's match-winner against Kerry and the unlikely journey from Australia to Pairc Ui Chaoimh
Mark Keane's journey from Australia to scoring an extra-time goal to eliminate Kerry from the Munster Championship at Páirc Uí Chaoimh was an unlikely one. But the AFL star wasted no time in writing himself into Cork footballing folklore
Last Updated: 09/11/20 12:12pm
With the one minute of injury-time at the end of extra-time elapsed, Luke Connolly desperately took on a low-percentage shot in a bid force penalties. The Rebels were trailing by a point, and the Nemo Rangers man attempted a speculative effort off his back foot.
As the ball hung in the Lee-side air and began to trail away from the goalposts, Connolly's team-mates could be seen throwing their hands up to the heavens in frustration.
That is, all bar one of the players donned in the 'blood and bandages'.
Debutant Mark Keane muscled his way into the goal-mouth area to collect Connolly's dropping shot, shrug off Tommy Walsh and bury it into the Kerry net.
Referee Derek O'Mahony blew the full-time whistle. Seconds after yearning for just a draw, Cork had won the contest, ending their greatest rival's eight-year Munster monopoly, and ending years of struggles for the big ball in the Rebel County.
The stunning late drama was all thanks to newcomer Mark Keane.
Before Thursday night's squad announcement, it was not public knowledge that Keane was even available to the Rebels. Seventy-two hours later, he is a legend on Lee-side.
So how did Cork's latest phenomenon end up on the Páirc Uí Chaoimh field on Sunday afternoon?
Mark Keane recently signed a new two-year deal with Collingwood to continue his Australian Rules career.— Sky Sports GAA (@SkySportsGAA) November 8, 2020
🇦🇺➡️🇮🇪During his off-season, the Mitchelstown man returned home and joined up with the Cork panel.
🏐His late goal has eliminated Kerry from the championship!
What a debut! pic.twitter.com/wxtwM9T4IF
AFL and GAA: A difficult relationship?
On this weekend 12 months ago, Conor McKenna found himself in hot water with his AFL side Essendon Bombers, after lining out for his native GAA club Eglish in a relegation play-off against Edendork.
The issue garnered much attention both in Ireland and Down Under, and appeared to set a precedent that Irish players in the AFL would not be allowed to return to Gaelic games in the off-season.
Of course, Australian Rules clubs' positions came into greater focus in recent weeks, as 2020's unique circumstances saw the AFL off-season coincide with the GAA intercounty championships.
Oh how the Tipperary footballers would love to welcome Colin O'Riordan back into their ranks, were it not for the Sydney Swans' veto. There are several other such instances around Ireland.
So there were naturally several raised eyebrows on Thursday night when Ronan McCarthy showed his hand, including the ace up his sleeve; Keane starting on the bench. The 20-year-old has spent the last six weeks in Ireland, the first two in isolation in accordance with coronavirus restrictions for anyone arriving into the country.
'We did our business properly with Collingwood'
"It's funny the way things work but I suppose we had no hesitation in bringing him in but Mark has huge interest in Cork football," Cork boss McCarthy told reporters after Sunday's win (quotes via The42).
"He's played underage all the way up and even when he's been away he's been interested in the team and stays in touch with us and the minute he was back he wanted to play.
"We brought him in and it was evident to me he was going to be an addition to us and the way it worked out today was great. The first thing is the player wants to play, that's the first thing, and then the second thing is that we did our business properly with Collingwood.
"We sought permission from them for him to play and they gave it to us and we're very grateful for it but ultimately, Mark has a huge interest in Cork football."
Few could have predicted his impact.
The Mitchelstown native was sprung from the bench in the 44th minute, replacing Colm O'Callaghan as Cork led Kerry, 0-7 to 0-6.
Initially, his influence appeared to be minimal. Conceding a free for a push was the height of his involvement until late in the game.
But just when he had been forgotten amid the drama, he out-muscled Walsh - a former AFL player himself - fielded the ball and buried it past Shane Ryan.
Even if he never plays another game of Gaelic football again for Cork, and it is a possibility that he will not feature again after this season, Mark Keane will be forever remembered for his integral role in one of Cork football's greatest triumphs.
After a decade in the doldrums, Cork football is back in the big-time. And the victory was created by the most unlikely of heroes.
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