James Keating: 'It's good to be back in finals'
By Cian O'Connell
James Keating is completely aware that something is stirring in Cork again. Relevant at underage level once more these are interesting times for Cork, who contest an eagerly anticipated Bord Gais Energy All Ireland Under 20 final against Tipperary at the LIT Gaelic Grounds on Saturday.
The Cork captain is encouraged about how Denis Ring’s team has developed during the past decade with this weekend’s encounter the next stop on an action packed journey. It is the third year in a row in which Keating is involved with a panel preparing for a national final illustrating the progress that has been made down south.
“When we were minor, I remember Thurles that day Cork beat Clare in the senior final, we beat them in the minor final, there was probably a big day for Cork getting two Munsters,” Keating recalls.
“We hadn't been there in a while, especially at minor. Obviously the Under 21 win last year in Munster, it's another trophy. It's good to be back in finals.
“Even the minors and 20s are getting further than they were maybe five or six years ago which is obviously a big thing. Hopefully we can go onto senior, there's a lot of young players coming through so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Keating always felt that this crop of players had the potential to make a mark when it truly mattered. “Yeah we kind of knew we'd a good bunch,” Keating admits. “We won the Tony Forristal, we won the U15, U16, so we were fairly successful all the way up along.
“But obviously they don't make much odds to us now like. These are the ones you want to be winning, the minor, the U21, the senior. Even playing at that level up along, you kind of get used to playing with each other. There's a good bond there now, hopefully we can end it on a high.”
That is precisely what Keith Ricken’s Cork Under 20 footballers did when defeating Dublin at O’Moore Park. Keating had been a central figure as Cork outfoxed Kilkenny in the hurling semi-final before former Mitchelstown CBS colleague Cathal O’Mahony delivered another impressive display to beat Dublin.
“We stayed on, of course we did, obviously it was a great day in Portlaoise,” Keating admits. “There was a massive Cork crowd up there, afterwards we were on the pitch with the footballers.
“We just want to feel that on Saturday too, there was a bit of jealousy maybe because we want to feel it ourselves. They inspired us too, 1-6 to no score down, they just kept on going. That is probably something we can take from them too, to never give up. Go full hog until the end.
“Cathal O'Mahony, I would be very friendly with him, we went to school together. We'd be very friendly, he was obviously unbelievable for the footballers all year. When we went to school he was a good hurler actually, he was very good. I was playing with him for six years in school, he is a sound fella, I'm great friends with him.”
Cork senior goalkeeper Anthony Nash is on the teaching staff in Mitchelstown CBS and Keating acknowledges that many valuable sporting lessons were learned under his guidance.
“He is teaching Business in Mitchelstown, he is obviously a big influence,” Keating states. “He was in the school when we came in for first year, he was the first we trained with.
“We had him all the way through. He obviously knows the score, he has been there a long time now, he was a great influence on us.
“When you were younger it would hit you more, but the more you get to know him it fades away. Obviously seeing him play Munster finals and even the 2013 All Ireland going up taking penalties it was a great thing to look up to.”
In Kildorrery with Keating and Ian Butler involved with the Cork panel excitement surrounds the upcoming battle against Tipperary. “Everyone is behind us,” Keating says. “Even Tipp winning the senior All Ireland will bring a massive crowd so hopefully there will be a big Cork crowd down to match them. In my village there is great support, the whole parish should be down there at the weekend.
“Ian Butler, he is the sub goalie, he is from Kildorrery too. There hasn't been a fella from Kildorrery on it for a while so to have two in the one year, obviously being in an All Ireland final, they are delighted at home.”
There is plenty of reason to cheer in Kildorrery because Keating has forged a hugely admirable and successful underage career in the blood red and white jersey.