‘I just feel like it’s the right time’ – Choosing Cork hurling over football after AFL career ends

March 28, 2022 0 By JohnValbyNation

MARK KEANE FELT the timing was right to pursue a hurling career with Cork after his decision last month to bring his time in the AFL to a close.

Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

The 21-year-old departed his Aussie Rules club Collingwood after being based with the Melbourne side since 2018.

His sporting focus has returned to his GAA roots in Ireland but despite starring for Cork football underage sides and famously scoring the goal for the senior team that secured a dramatic win over Kerry in November 2020, he has linked up with Kieran Kingston’s hurling squad for the year ahead.

Mark Keane is focused on Cork hurlers in 2022.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Football was always kind of my love, I played hurling all the way up as well,” says Keane.

“I played minor and U20 at football level, would’ve played both if I could have. I just thought it was the right time to give hurling a go. It’s a dream for everyone really to play both codes, play Cork hurling and football. Since I’ve done the football, I just wanted to give hurling a go. I just feel like it’s the right time.

“I’ve been working closely with the selectors above in Cork senior hurling. They’ve been great and very supportive, trying to get the best out of me.

“It’s a very young crop of good players coming through, training sessions are very high intensity and very enjoyable. That’s all thanks I suppose to Kieran with Noel Furlong and Pat Mulcahy, they’ve been super. Even the training sessions are a great buzz, going up and meeting all the lads.”

Keane has a strong underage hurling track record and will link up with some colleagues from those teams now on the senior stage with Cork.

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“I’ve a Munster medal and All-Ireland medal in hurling from U15 and U16 under John Meyler. Winning with the likes of Darragh Connery, Tommy O’Connell, Sean Twomey, and seeing them playing with Cork senior hurling. Seeing the Cork footballers win the U20 final (in 2019), my fellow clubmate Cathal O’Mahony win the U20 title as well. That was devastating for me as well, and I felt I could have been a part of it, if I was at home.”

Cork’s league campaign may be commencing on Saturday against Clare but Keane has a more significant assignment. His form for his club Ballygiblin has rekindled his interest in hurling, a series of powerful displays have helped propel them into the AIB All-Ireland junior final against Kilkenny’s Mooncoin.

He may have played at the MCG in Australia but this will be his first time gracing the Croke Park stage.

Mark Keane in action for Collingwood.

Source: AAP/PA Images

“It’s everyone’s dream to be in Croke Park with your club, definitely (didn’t think I would) with Ballygiblin. It’s an unbelievable buzz in fairness, it’s only a small country club outside of Mitchelstown. I couldn’t speak highly enough of Brian Molan and Liam Doc (O’Doherty), our chairman and secretary, they’ve been unreal. They’re just great characters and you just want to play and win for them any day of the week.”

After opting to close out his AFL days, Keane has no regrets at the end of a sporting chapter that saw him make five appearances for Collingwood.

“I went back over for five or six weeks for a pre-season (at the end of 2021). When I came home I just wasn’t ready to go back. Just in my own head, I’ve always went back without a bother but this time just felt it wasn’t the same and wasn’t ready to go back and commit to it.

“I suppose I always wanted to come home and play for Cork in either hurling or football. I just felt like it was the right time to come home.

“It’s always a tough decision when you’re leaving the AFL. I just had to ring the head coach and general manager and had a few conversations with them and they were very supportive of it as well, looked after me very well with my transition back to home.

“When I was over there I was always invested in it, whenever I was training, I trained to the best of my ability and stuff like that, but in the back of my mind GAA was always there. I’ve tried loads of times to ignore the GAA back here at home, but unfortunately I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Mark Keane.

Source: AAP/PA Images

The restrictions enforced by Covid-19 made life difficult off the pitch over the past couple of years.

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“I wasn’t able to get my parents and girlfriend over for my AFL debut. There were special moments like that you weren’t able to do. You weren’t able to come home as easy as you were.

“There were restrictions put on the AFL boys, even though there weren’t in Melbourne – you weren’t ablet to go to restaurants and stuff like, just to keep the AFL season up and running.

“AFL PA, and the Gaelic Players Association, have been super with helping me. AFL PA, even though you are retired, they’ll still help you for three years post-retirement, which is very good.

“The transiton has been good. It’s definitely been easier with there being a good buzz around the place, around Mitchelstown and Ballygiblin.”

When living in Australia, hurling was initially parked in Keane’s list of priorities. He then availed of an O’Neills depot in Adelaide to get himself a hurley so he could puck around with his housemate, Meath’s Cian McBride, and took in the odd training session with Melbourne club Garryowen.

Since last autumn he has become immersed in the sport again, only missing one of Ballygiblin’s matches when they played a Munster semi-final. He’s keeping an eye on Cork’s league trip to Tullamore on Sunday week against Offaly and gearing himself up for an All-Ireland club final.

The aim is achieve more than just that memorable goal for Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2020.

“It’s always good when you’re knocking Kerry out of championship – you can’t beat them enough. I was just glad that we got to the Munster final, but we didn’t finish it off when we should have. I don’t want to be remembered just for that.

“I want to be remembered for other things: Playing with Cork hurling this year, aiding and helping Ballygiblin to get to an All-Ireland final, being around Mitchelstown in county finals, playing in the AFL as well.”

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