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From a surreal debut in England against Luis Suarez to a title tilt with Cork City

Former Ireland U19 midfielder Jimmy Keohane is keen on League of Ireland success after five years in the UK.

WHEN JIMMY KEOHANE was offered the opportunity at the end of last season to swap Sligo Rovers for Cork City, he knew just the man to turn to for advice.

For most of his four years at Exeter City, Keohane was a colleague of John O’Flynn, a goalscoring hero at Turner’s Cross. Now plying his trade with Limerick, the veteran Cork-born striker encouraged Keohane to make the move south.

Soccer - Johnstone's Paint Trophy - Second Round - Coventry City v Exeter City - Ricoh Arena Jimmy Keohane during his time with Exeter City. Source: EMPICS Sport

A few days after the club won the FAI Cup last November, Keohane was announced as a Cork City player. He was warned that he was joining a club with high standards, but that’s largely what attracted the 26-year-old to Leeside in the first place.

“I spoke a lot to John but I sort of knew what Cork City were about anyway. It’s something I wanted to be a part of — challenging for leagues, cups and having a good run in Europe,” Keohane says.

“It’s a very professional set-up and the ambitions are like what they should be for the top club in the country. We have a little bit to prove this season by taking that step towards the league title, but we’re going to try and do that game-by-game.”

This season is Keohane’s second back in the SSE Airtricity League since he departed as a 19-year-old for Bristol City, who paid an undisclosed sum – believed to be in the region of €100,000 – to sign him from Wexford Youths in August 2010.

However, his hopes of making an impact were hampered just three weeks after his arrival when Steve Coppell stepped down from his role as manager. Coppell, having brought Kevin Doyle and Shane Long from Cork City to Reading five years earlier, had already displayed his trust in League of Ireland imports.

His successor, Keith Millen, went on to steer Bristol City to a respectable 15th-place finish in the Championship but Keohane played no part. After a year at Ashton Gate, he was allowed to leave and join Exeter City in League One.

Danny Murphy and Jimmy Keohane Jimmy Keohane of Wexford Youths tussling with Shamrock Rovers' Danny Murphy in June 2010. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“My time in Bristol wasn’t totally disappointing,” Keohane says. “I would love to have broken through but just being in that professional environment was a great experience for a 19-year-old.

“I don’t look back on it with any sort of disappointment or wondering why he [Steve Coppell] couldn’t have stayed on. These things happen in football and you’ve just got to deal with them. Things won’t always work out according to plan.”

Over the course of four seasons, Keohane made just shy of 100 appearances for Exeter – most of which came in League Two following their relegation in 2012. His very first game for the club might have been his most memorable, however.

A Liverpool side featuring Luis Suarez, Raul Meireles and Jordan Henderson were the visitors to St James’ Park for a League Cup tie. It was quite a debut for a player who had his last taste of first-team football over a year earlier in a League of Ireland First Division game in Athlone.

“I just thought I’d go into the game and play as I normally do, treating it as just another game,” Keohane recalls. “But it was special, with it being my debut and having players of the quality of Suarez, Henderson and all these other big names. It was a pretty amazing experience. Definitely surreal. I really enjoyed it.”

Keohane was introduced as a substitute in the 26th minute, just moments after Suarez had put Liverpool in front. Maxi Rodriguez and Andy Carroll added to the Premier League giants’ lead in the second half before Daniel Nardiello scored a consolation penalty for Exeter after being fouled by Martin Skrtel.

Soccer - Carling Cup - Second Round - Exeter City v Liverpool - St James' Park Jimmy Keohane looks on as Luis Suarez tries to get away from Exeter City's Troy Archibald-Henville. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Keohane: “Suarez, you could just see there’s something different there. He’s so sharp. It is a little bit of an eye-opener when you’re on the same pitch as players of that ability; the different level and the different quality. But a great experience and one I’ll always remember.”

After he left Exeter and had a brief spell with Woking in the early stages of the 2015-16 season in England, Keohane opted for a return to Ireland. He did enough during 31 league appearances at Sligo Rovers to catch the attention of Cork City manager John Caulfield, who has started the former Republic of Ireland U19 midfielder in all but one of his side’s games so far this year.

Born in England to a mother from Manchester and then raised in Kilkenny, Keohane already had a connection to Cork via his father, who hails from the town of Charleville in the north of the county.

“It’s sort of like a real community club here,” Keohane says. “That’s what Cork is and the whole city and county is behind the team. Now that Cork has had a little bit of success recently, everyone is sort of keeping an eye out and the publicity is very good. The boys all love it, they’re enjoying it. When you have the whole area behind you it definitely spurs you on.”

Keohane made his Cork City debut in last month’s 3-0 victory against Dundalk in the President’s Cup. Another win over the reigning Premier Division champions at Turner’s Cross this afternoon would hand City a six-point lead in their bid to win a first title in 12 years. That’s Keohane’s only aim now, although he may not be done with England just yet.

“We didn’t start that [President's Cup] game that well but we definitely put down a marker in the second half, to say that this is what we’re about this season,” he says.

Jimmy Keohane and Ronan Finn Keohane under pressure from Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers during Cork City's 2-1 win last week. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

“You can really see the rivalry; how much they want to win and how much we want to win. That kind of competitive edge is what you need when you want to push yourself on to challenge for trophies.

“We’re all aware of the ambitions of the club here and that’s what we’re aiming to collectively achieve. We’ve just got to work hard together and take each game as it comes. The next game is always the biggest one, whether it’s against Dundalk or somebody else.”

Keohane adds: “I haven’t really thought too much about what the future holds. My girlfriend is English and she would like to get back. But last season was my first season back in the league and I really just wanted to get back playing again regularly.

“After doing that [in Sligo] and now in Cork where it’s just a little bit more competitive again, I just want to push myself and see what I can do from here.”

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 5, here’s the standings:

The42: 17
The Readers: 14

Next up is Ronan Murphy from Wexford (via Carlow)…

The Reader (Ronan Murphy) 

  • Cork City v Dundalk – Cork City win
  • St Patrick’s Athletic v Shamrock Rovers – Shamrock Rovers win
  • Drogheda United v Bohemians – Draw
  • Bray Wanderers v Limerick – Bray Wanderers win
  • Finn Harps v Sligo Rovers – Finn Harps win

The42 (Paul Dollery) 

  • Cork City v Dundalk – Draw
  • St Patrick’s Athletic v Shamrock Rovers – Shamrock Rovers win
  • Drogheda United v Bohemians – Bohemians win
  • Bray Wanderers v Limerick – Draw
  • Finn Harps v Sligo Rovers – Draw

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About the author:

Paul Dollery

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