April 24, 1992
Kieran McKeever, old corner back
Dungiven's Pocket Battleship
The Derry ace belongs to a new breed of defenders
Says Bernie Mullan
The fresh faced young man with sandy coloured hair and a ready smile would easily pass for a student on his day off if you met him on Dungiven's Main Street. The choirboy looks and air of innocence has fooled a few corner forwards - ask the likes of James McCartan, Bernie Flynn, Stephen McGinnity or Peter Canavan!
Dungiven's Kieran McKeever is living proof that small players can defend. While in the past small corner forwards were an acceptable part of the game, Kieran epitomised a new breed of defender. Quick off the mark, superb anticipation and an ability not to lose sight of an opponent no matter how they wandered. In around five hours of football in 1991, messrs. Canavan, Flynn, McGinnity and McCartan mastered a point between them against the stocky Derry corner back.
Kieran McKeever was born into a footballing household. His father Thomas was a Derry minor panelist in the mid sixties. A powerfully built player, Thomas played his trade with Claudy, John F. Kennedy's, Foreglen and finally Dungiven. He was noted as a player of immense strength and many a player finished second best in a joust with him on the hard north Derry circuit of the sixties and seventies.
Thomas married Kathleen Campbell who came from a footballing family in Banagher. Kieran is the oldest of their five boys. He was born on the 12th of March in 1968. Brian, Emmet, Thomas and Cathal followed. Emmet is a carbon copy of Kieran - he is on the Derry minor team for the second successive year. Like the 'big' brother, he plays right back. Brian and Thomas don't have much interest but a nine year old Cathal looks set to become another defender of note.
It's hard for Kieran to get away from football day or night. His workmates included Brian McGilligan and Plunkett Murphy, his boss is Andy Murphy - big Andy manages the Dungiven team where Kieran plays half back or half forward.
Kieran and his pretty wife Denise, have a cute little 16 month old daughter, Caira. She takes up much of Kieran's time if he's not playing or training. Denise, too, hailed from a sporting background, her father Joe being one of eight brothers to play for Foreglen.
After attending a local primary school, Kieran graduated to St. Patrick's Secondary School. The headmaster there was Sean O'Connell and among the other staff were former Derry players like Fintan McCloskey and Francie Brolly. Kilkenny born Liam Hinphey was the school hurling coach. He was quick to spot Kieran's talent and so a notable dual career was launched.
With the Kevin Lynch's hurling club and the St. Canices football club, he has collected an amazing array of medals. In hurling he has won county medals at all possible grades with Derry and in football he has Under 14, Under 16, two minors and two senior county awards.
Further afield, the Dungiven man has won two All-Ireland special medals but one of his greatest achievements came in 1982 when Kevin Lynch's captured the 'B' section of Feile na Gael in Dublin. A national leader, he captained quite a few of the successful teams including the county minor team in 1986 when they lost the Ulster football final to Down at Clones.
That 1986 campaign was memorable for Kieran, who played right half back. He lined out in the Ulster Final with a fractured arm. His father was the team manager and they lost narrowly to Down with many of the Down players winning All-Ireland medals the following year.
A bitterly cold day in February 1988 was the scene of Kieran's senior debut. Greenlough was the venue and Monaghan the team. Derry got trounced but a new star was born, he has been ever present on the team since. Last year he received an All Star nomination. In early 1992 Kieran failed to make the Ulster team but he didn't complain as he believes in proving a point.
McKeever is an immensely popular member of the Derry squad and current vice captain - when Henry Downey was injured Kieran captained the team to wins over Kildare and Kerry.
Maybe the fact that he excelled at athletics while at St. Patricks was the secret of his success. In his last year at school he could clear a high jump that he could walk under. His ability to leap from a standing start equalises the situation against bigger players.
A first glance would leave him the target for a bullying forward but some have found to their cost that he has inherited the McKeever hardness, who can hold their own in any company.
I can remember a tough Division 2 hurling game at Trim three years ago when Derry beat Meath by 1-8 to 0-8. Kieran had the proverbial blinder in the number three jersey, a Meath fan said to me 'that's a great little full back you have - he can't be more than 16!'
Kieran now confines his hurling to club level, electing to channel most of his endless energy into football. If ever there was proof in the old adage that good goods come in small bundles, then Kieran McKeever has provided the answers.
Taken from Hogan Stand
24th April 1992
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