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'Living on your own in a foreign country isn’t easy but it teaches you a lot about yourself'

New Yorker Jake Keegan has wound up at St Patrick’s Athletic, having played in the US, Germany, Canada and Galway.

Keegan has four league goals this season.
Keegan has four league goals this season.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT WAS ULTIMATELY St Patrick’s Athletic’s attractive brand of football that temped Jake Keegan back for a second spell in the League of Ireland.

Having enjoyed two seasons at Galway United, the US-born striker joined Canadian outfit FC Edmonton in 2016.

However, when the North American Soccer League (NASL) was denied its status at the beginning of this year, the 27-year-old found himself at a loose end.

“After Edmonton folded, my initial thought was to go closer to home or somewhere like Scandinavia,” Keegan tells The42 this week. “I wasn’t thinking about coming back to Ireland as I wanted to experience new things, but Liam Buckley rang and it ended up happening.

“They’re a great club that tries to play the game the right way. They want to keep the ball on the ground and play possession football, which is better for a striker who’s not 6’ 5’’. That grabbed my attention when I spoke to Liam. At Edmonton, we were very route one so I played on the wing a lot as you’re not going to go long with a 5’ 9’’ striker.”

Today, he calls Dublin home but it was an hour outside New York City in a hamlet called Stormville that Keegan spent his formative years.

Despite playing some basketball, football was always the sport he felt most passionately about as a child. MetroStars star Clint Mathis, US midfielder Michael Bradley and a young Cristiano Ronaldo (then of Manchester United) were the players Jake looked up to while lining out for local side East Fishkill Thunder.

Four years in college football followed at Binghamton University, and although he learned a lot from head coach Paul Marco, the standard could have been better.

“The college system in the US isn’t the best for development,” he admits. “I was lucky to have someone who helped me along, but looking back on it, you have a three-month season and then there are rules that hold you back from playing at other times.

“You look at [Pat's team-mates] Darragh Markey, James Doona or Jamie Lennon here and, okay, at their age I probably wasn’t as good as them, but if I had been put into an environment similar to one they are in I could have developed at a faster rate.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my experience and got a degree but, from a playing point of view, it’s something that the US system needs to have a look at.”

Keegan moved onto the Premier Development League — made up of the best college players and some old pros — with Westerchester Flames, and subsequently, Jersey Express.

After winning the Golden Boot and Rookie of the Year, the forward was drafted by MLS side Philadelphia Union in 2013, while also being offered a trial with Maccabi Haifa in Israel at the same time.

There was a decision to be made.

“When you’re drafted in MLS, it’s more or less a trial, so I basically had to pick between two trials,” he recalls. “I ended up going to Maccabi Haifa, but didn’t get signed and I was in a situation where I just needed to find a team.

“That led me to Germany. The move wasn’t for cultural reasons at that point, I was 22 and just wanted to start my career.

But now I’ve been to Germany, Galway, Canada and Dublin and one of the great things about playing football is that you get to travel the world and experience different cultures. Living on your own in a foreign country isn’t easy but it teaches you a lot about yourself.”

Joining FCA Darmstadt, he scored a bunch of goals but it was the sixth division of German football so his plan wasn’t to stay very long.

When the winter break came around, there were offers higher up in the German league, but a friend from his former club opened up another window of opportunity.

Dave Harris, who worked at Westerchester Flames, had family in Malahide and knew St Pat’s boss Liam Buckley. Contact was made, and while Bucko said they weren’t in the market for a striker, he put him onto friend Tommy Dunne — at that time manager of Galway United.

Lee Desmon with Jake Keegan Keegan (left) facing St Patrick's Athletic defender Lee Desmond during his Galway United days. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Keegan helped the Tribesmen win promotion to the Premier Division in 2014 and featured prominently for them in the top flight the following year — scoring a total of 33 goals in two seasons.

“We were successful in terms of getting the club promoted and reaching a EA Sports Cup final, so it was great. Working with Tommy Dunne was definitely a period where I improved a lot in a short space of time.

“The lads were great but it was a different set-up to Pat’s. We have younger players here, but there are experienced guys. In Galway, it was almost like a university team but it was enjoyable. I lived in a house with the likes of Gary Shanahan, Paddy Barrett and Killian Cantwell, and it’s a very youthful, vibrant city.”

Eager for a new experience, he then accepted an invite to move to Canada and the first season at Edmonton went extremely well. But when the NASL disbanded, Keegan found himself back in the SSE Airtricity League this February.

At the Saints, he had to settled for cameo appearances from the bench for the first couple of months, but he’s been leading the line in recent weeks ahead of the out-of-sorts Christy Fagan.

Christy is a quality player and he has scored so many goals for the club and around the league over the years,” he says of his team-mate. “It’s been a great experience learning from him and competition is also good as it brings out the best in people.

“You want that because if you have a drop in form, the other player can drop in. Hopefully we can score some more goals between the two of us.”

Keegan registered his third and fourth in the league as they drew 2-2 with Bohemians a week ago. There were suggestions he may not have got a touch on Dean Clarke’s cross for the opener, while the second was a Kevin Toner header that hit him on the way in.

Like any striker worth their salt (just ask Harry Kane), however, he’s claiming both.

“I did touch both, but I don’t know if I’ll ever score two odder goals,” Keegan smiles. “The first was clear-cut but the second was a bit stranger. It took a touch off my leg but I didn’t know much about it after a great header by Kev.

I just said ‘Great finish, Kev’, but after the match I saw I had two goals and I was like ‘Alright, I guess I scored twice!’.

Monday night saw the Saints suffer a first league defeat in four as they were on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering from Dundalk at Oriel Park.

“Dundalk were absolutely quality on the night and when they’re in that kind of form I don’t think anyone can live with them,” Keegan says.

“In the first half, they had four or five chances and we had two, with a goal ruled out for offside. We were thinking we could nick one and hold on, but in the second half they scored early and turned the screw. It’s a game we can learn from.”

Tonight, they have the chance to put that result behind them as a resurgent Shamrock Rovers make the short trip to Inchicore. Sixth-placed Pat’s trail the Hoops by three points but with a game in-hand, victory would bring them that bit closer to the European spots.

“It’s definitely a big one,” Keegan states. “The last time we played Rovers I came on in the last few minutes, so I’m really looking forward to this Dublin derby.

“The games are coming thick and fast, which is good after the way things went for us on Monday night. A lot of managers are giving out about the fixtures, but as a player you just want to play.”

Premier Division fixtures 

PL fixtures 4 May

 

First Division 

1st Div fixtures 4 May

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Ben Blake

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