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'It's frustrating, actually. You're off the radar. You're playing in a so-called lesser league, in their eyes'

Andy Keogh has been a consistent goalscorer in Australia for the last four years but isn’t expecting a call anytime soon from the Republic of Ireland.

ANDY KEOGH ADMITS it’s been the longest pre-season in history.

“14 weeks now so I’m just raring to go,” he says.

“I’m feeling really good. It’s the best shape I’ve been in in a long time. And it all starts again in a month.

With the exception of a cup defeat to Melbourne Victory at the start of August, his Perth Glory side haven’t played a competitive game since April.

They paid the price for a difficult season, culminating in their failure to reach the play-offs.

It was tough for everyone. Keogh managed just six goals, the first time he’d fallen short of double-figures since arriving in the A-League in 2014. The team only hit 36 in total and finished third from bottom. They never really got going but a mid-season slump – which saw them lose five games on the bounce – hit them particularly hard.

Once everything wrapped, Kenny Lowe was sacked as coach and former Australian international Tony Popovic has taken the reins, an appointment seen as a firm statement of intent.    

Changes. Drama. Moves. Transitions. New eras. 

Keogh has seen it all before.

His time in Perth hasn’t been without incident. There was a cliched nightclub arrest in February 2015 and then, just two months later, a bizarre salary-cap scandal that involved his wife and uncle and led to him briefly leaving the club and signing with Thai side Ratchaburi. 

But, through all of that, Keogh has remained a consistent performer. Arguably, he’s played the best football of his career in Oz but he’s reluctant to agree. 

“I wouldn’t single it out at all,” he says. 

“I had some great moments in England as well – with Wolves, Millwall – when I first joined them – and Scunthorpe too. But I’ve scored some good goals here and have some good stats to back everything up. 

This is my fifth season now and I’m still enjoying it. I know what to expect. The move went well but it’s about whatever mentality you enter something with. I came here to do well and help the team and that’s what’s happened. It was a different and unique experience coming here first but if you treat it like a holiday, your performances will show that. You have to have the proper attitude and the right view going forward for what you want to achieve.”  

In his first season, Keogh finished as the league’s top scorer. In his second, he netted 10 goals in 15 appearances, rejoining midway through after that ill-fated spell in Asia. Fired up upon his return to the city, Keogh broke an A-League record, scored in eight consecutive games and made an integral contribution to the team’s run to the postseason. In 2017, Keogh racked up another dozen goals as the side reached the championship semi-finals.

Keogh Source: TRAVIS ANDERSON

Throughout that time, he’s fielded quite a few calls – from other top A-League sides, from Championship teams looking for a push in their quest for Premier League promotion. But there’s not been any call from home.   

In the spring of 2016 – after he broke that Australian goal record – he commented on the lack of communication from the Republic of Ireland setup.  

There’s players getting picked in preliminary squads that aren’t scoring as much as me, so I’d like to think I can come into the reckoning. I’m only 29 and I have a lot to give.”

“I look at some of the players that are being picked at the minute and I’m more than comfortable with competing against them.”

But the timing wasn’t great for Keogh to get recalled.

Martin O’Neill had qualified the Irish side for the European Championships. For the first time in a long time, the mood was positive. Shane Long, Jonathan Walters and Robbie Keane were still relatively dependable in attack.

However, that’s not the case anymore. Since Keane’s retirement, the team has lacked punch, verve and consistency in the final third, not that it was ever really very prolific to begin with. Walters is struggling for game-time at Burnley, Long has scored two goals in the last eighteen months, Sean Maguire has only played 12 games since March because of injury. There’s a dearth of options.

But what about Keogh? Would it really be so outlandish to call up a striker who is now fourth on the list of all-time Perth Glory top scorers? 

He admits he’d be shocked if it happened. 

“You’re off the radar,” he says. 

You’re playing in a so-called ‘lesser league’, in their eyes. It is what it is. And it’s the furthest thing from my mind at the minute. It was a great honour at the time and making my debut and representing my country will always be my greatest memory in football but you’ve got to move on. People get older, new people come in. And that’s not to say I don’t think I could merit a place in the squad at the minute but that’s football. It’s a game of opinions. That’s how it is.”

But when he made the move to Australia in 2014, did he know it would effectively end his international career? 

Andy Keogh celebrates his goal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Listen, I was never a force in the Irish squad, was I?” he asks.

“I was a squad player who contributed when I could and who gave my all to my country. I obviously knew it would be more difficult going away but at the end of the day, my stats and goals per game ratio and general form…Other players were playing in similar leagues around the world at the same time and still getting picked. You’ve got Robbie Keane as the exception who could play anywhere in the world and still get called up and rightly so. But other players were also getting picked. And if you’re judging on merit and goals and form, I probably should’ve been in with a shout.”

Last month, O’Neill openly discussed the lack of options available to him up front.

“I can’t deny that it’s a problem,” he said.  

“We have had to make do. We can’t go into a transfer market, we can’t try and sort something out, it is what it is. It’s been a difficulty since I’ve come in here.”

Not that he spends much time dwelling on it, Keogh still admits it’s been irritating being ignored, especially when he’s kept his head down and been scoring goals regularly. 

“It is frustrating, actually,” he says. 

You have a few blow-ins that come in and out. All of a sudden they’re Irish and then they’re not Irish. There’s not really a settled player in there. You’re casting the net far and wide and it becomes a bit of a circus, to be honest.”

Still, despite his disappointment, he remains a fan. He acknowledges that O’Neill and his management team seem to be under pressure but feels it’s just a cyclical thing and merely part of the process.  

“There seems to be tension there,” he says. 

“But they’ve done fantastically well – qualifying for tournaments and getting the passionate support behind them. But every great manager, every good manager, every management team does well and then people want to see change. That’s just football. It doesn’t necessarily mean something good but change is change. People get bored very easily. Trap was flavour of the month for a few years and then he wasn’t. All of a sudden he was ‘useless’ and we played ‘terrible’ football. But is the football any different to what’s being played now? Not at all. So again it’s a roundabout of opinions. People getting bored, wanting change, wanting someone new to talk to at press conferences. Once one part of the media gets bored, they all seem to jump on board.

I don’t find the football hard to watch at all. The lads do everything for a reason and follow instructions from the manager. It’s his team and the lads are the ones who go out and implement what he wants. That’s how football is. I’ve still got a lot of friends on the team and I’ll always watch and support my country regardless. That’s how it is. I enjoy watching and there’s no second thought about that.”

Keogh’s international career blossomed under Giovanni Trapattoni and there are some comparisons between the Italian’s final days in charge and what O’Neill is currently experiencing. 

Trapattoni guided the Republic to the European Championships in 2012 before the wheels came off. The following qualification campaign was marred by a humiliating defeat in Dublin (Keogh scored his second and final goal for his country in that 6-1 loss to Germany) and the manager struggled to properly convince he could rectify things.

But Keogh isn’t so sure.   

“I think both situations are completely different,” he says. 

Kevin Doyle, Richard Dunne, Andy Keogh and Giovanni Trapattoni Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“There’s always going to be a point in anyone’s career – a manager or a player – when somebody pinpoints a moment and says ‘this is where it went wrong’ but it’s just a way for them to justify something. After the Germany game under Trap, we still had qualification in our hands. We still could have qualified. It was those games against Sweden and Austria that really cost us. It’s quite different from the Denmark play-off which was a last-gasp game where the winner takes all, basically. I understand where people are coming from regarding the two heavy defeats. But it’s just the way the press reacts. One big loss doesn’t warrant such a reaction but some people just get bored.”

Trapattoni has been in Keogh’s thoughts lately, as have some of his other former managers. Since his mid-2os, he’s been studying for his coaching badges and is now inching ever closer to completing the entire set. 

“I’ve completed my Uefa ‘A’ licence and just applied for the Uefa Pro Licence with the FAI,” he says. 

“I’ve been racking up the coaching hours in my spare time – Tuesday nights, Thursday nights, Saturday afternoons. I’m 32 now and you always plan for life after football. I didn’t want to be one of those players that retires and then says, ‘Oh, I think I’ll do my badges’. So I started them when I was 24 or 25 with the plan that when I was 35 – what’s considered the ‘retirement age’ – I’d have every single qualification needed to step onto a pitch at a high level. It doesn’t mean I’ll be any good but it means I’ll have the qualifications necessary to apply for jobs and try and get my foot in the door. 

I’ve learned a lot in football with a half-decent career. I was never a high-class player but I picked up a lot of experience on and off the pitch that will definitely hold me in good stead when I apply for jobs when I’m older.” 

Keogh has had quite a few contrasting mentors and it hasn’t been plain-sailing with all of them. Still, particularly as he starts building towards management, he’s grateful for the different personalities he’s got to experience.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Derby County v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Pride Park Source: Nick Potts

“I was only thinking about that the other week,” he says. 

“I was talking to Mick McCarthy because he was giving me a reference for the Pro licence and I had a little trip down memory lane and remembered a few things – the traits and mannerisms he had. At the time I’d be pissed off and annoyed with him about things but I said to myself, ‘You know what, let’s analyse this from a coach’s point of view and from a manager’s perspective’ and it’s really stuff you’re blessed to have come across. Like, just being involved with a person like Mick and others like Trapattoni, and Kenny Jackett at Millwall too.

With Trap, it was more how he went about his business, how he spoke to people, his defensive systems, how he was so pedantic about little things on the pitch. You picked up on the reasons why but at the time you didn’t know. Why did he have two players in the hole at a corner? Every team I’d known always had just one. But he lost a European final after conceding a header from that position. So he always had two players in that hole and vowed never to concede a goal like that again. It was always interesting, these little things you picked up. His achievements, his background – you’d be crazy not to draw on those memories too.” 

“But it’s a good while away yet. I’ve got some good years still left in my legs and that’s what I’m looking forward to.” 

With Popovic in charge, big things are expected of the Glory this season. Keogh is one of the most experienced players in the squad and was handed the captain’s armband last year. 

“As you get older and more experienced, people look up to that,” he says. 

ALEAGUE GLORY WANDERERS Source: TONY MCDONOUGH

“I was lucky enough to get the armband and it’s something I enjoy – sharing those different experiences with the boys. It can help the younger players develop and help me lead the team.”

Has the increased responsibility changed his on-field/off-field personality at all? Does the captaincy mean curating a different version of himself?  

“You want people that lead by example and who other players want to follow,” he says. 

“You don’t want them just to follow the armband. You want them to follow the man. You’re not going to get that if you’re a ‘fake’ person or if it’s all for show. If the armband was to change people like that then maybe they shouldn’t be given it in the first place.”

Australia is certainly home now. Keogh and his family are well settled and waiting for their citizenship to come through.

There are pangs sometimes. For family and friends both in Ireland and the UK. But, such is the emigrant story.   

“You can’t have everything in the world,” he says. 

“You’ve got to miss them but enjoy them when you get to go back and visit. It’s very difficult in terms of logistics but it doesn’t stop us.

Once we made the decision to come over, we were comfortable with it. I knew people, I had some family here. It all worked out well and it wasn’t like we were doing it on our own. It was a new challenge and we really went from there. We were looking forward to the adventure and I’m still here.”                         

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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