It's a first but hopefully it'll be the first of many: Áine Keane

April 13, 2024

Pictured (L-R) at the launch of the 2024 Very Camogie Leagues are Carlow's Eleanor Treacy, Kerry's Norette Casey, Clare's Aine O'Loughlin, Galway's Aine Keane, Cork's Molly Lynch, Waterford's Lorraine Bray and Tyrone's Siobhan Donnelly. ©INPHO/Tom Maher.

It isn’t every 21-year-old that is put forward for press duties but Áine Keane has represented Galway at both the initial launch of the Very Camogie Leagues and the midweek photo shoot for this weekend’s finals.

An aspirant teacher currently on a placement in her local Gort CS, Keane possesses all the characteristics you’d want from a leader, however.

Captain and player of the match when Galway won the All-Ireland U16 title in 2018, the St Thomas’ star is talented, has presence and possesses tremendous communication skills. Just as important is her focus on the collective, the big picture, rather than the immediate wants of the individual.

It would be a nice birthday present were Galway to win tomorrow, given she turns 22 the week after next, but it is the benefits to an evolving squad that Keane emphasises. There are players that would never have played with one another and others reacquainting themselves.

She’s thinking of the likes of former player of the year Niamh Kilkenny, returned after her year out to have a baby. Niamh Hanniffy back from injury, The vastly experienced Annmarie Starr’s perseverance rewarded with a regular spot for the first time in years. One of the best forwards in the country, Niamh Mallon an exciting addition after transferring from Down. And then, the likes of youngsters Niamh Niland, Niamh McPeake, Ally Hesnan and Ciara Hickey making their presence felt.

The measure of this impressive woman is perhaps best illustrated by raising €15,434, divided equally between Gort Cancer Support and Croí, by taking on a 24 hour challenge of running two kilometres every hour at Kilbeacanty pitch last November. The last few were walks and hobbles but no one was arguing.

An added fly in the ointment was that that the event had been organised for after the conclusion of the club championship. But St Thomas’ drew their county senior B final with Clarinbridge. The replay was fixed for a few days after Keane was due to put her body through such rigours that she would be physically spent.

She had gone too far to back out now and just went with it. With legs so full of lactic acid they swelled up later that night, Keane provided another player-of-the-match performance in the replay, registering 2-6 and setting up a number a number of other scores.

“A bit of madness,” Keane labels it now.

“It was coming towards the end of the year. The county had finished, club had started and before the year was out I wanted to do something. I gathered a few ideas and went to our Galway S&C coach Robbie Lane. We had a few chats and I decided upon this.

“The two charities are close to a lot of people’s hearts around me and in Galway in particular. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d raise fifteen and a half grand. Never ever. The support I got was incredible but the body definitely didn’t like it! A lot of girls, from the county and club, rowed in behind me and kept me going. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“The county final replay wasn’t ideal. I think I gave the manager (Niall Gillane) a few heart attacks that week but it all worked out. I’m delighted I did it.”

The aforementioned Lane certainly had less work to do with Keane when she came into the system than many others, given her childhood and continuing duties on the family sheep and suckler cow farm.

“The daily struggle,” she coins it with chuckle, with reference to the enduring inclemency of the weather. It was a fantastic outlet during Covid though, she says, and certainly helped when it came to building physical strength.

“When you were young, there were buckets and bags there, you had to lift them. There was no excuse.”

Her form has been excellent as Galway set up tomorrow’s Very Division 1A final against Tipperary at Croke Park (2.30pm, live on RTÉ2 TV). She feels the Ashbourne Cup triumph with UL provided her momentum.

She wasn’t alone, however, and notable among her fellow Third Level All-Stars are Tipp trio Eimear Loughman, Casey Hennessy and Eimear McGrath, who took Galway for three goals when the Premiers came out on top in The Ragg in the group series.

Keane’s All-Star came at centre-back. It was after last year’s League final that Galway manager, Cathal Murray felt facing the ball might suit the lifelong forward given her pure striking, vision, ball-winning ability and power. That switch last year has now seen her take ownership of the maroon No 6 jersey.

“UL was a great starter for me this year in trying to get used to centre-back and then transitioning into Galway, which has fed off that, though you’ve different players around you.

“It’s a different role to a forward but it’s one that I’m enjoying. You can place the ball and you’ve the whole pitch in front of you.”

Given what she saw in the Ashbourne, she is not surprised by the form of UL’s Tipp contingent, particularly McGrath, who has stepped into the considerable shoes of Cáit Devane as the attacking talisman.

“I’ve seen how well they’ve been going all year in college. I wasn’t one bit surprised when I saw Eimear transfer the form into the League. Casey is another one. Eimear Loughman in the backs and Sarah Madden is on the bench. They’re exceptional athletes.

“We’ll be enemies for 60 minutes and be friends again then. We’ll have a laugh about it afterwords.”

Galway are chasing a three-in-a-row on what is an historic occasion. Their game is the middle of a triple-header, along with the Division 2A final between Derry and Westmeath, and the Leinster SFC tie involving All-Ireland champions Dublin and Meath.

“That’s huge. It’s a first but hopefully it’ll be the first of many. Hopefully some people will come in a bit early to watch the camogie and as well as that, it raises the profile of the game. It’s a great idea from the two organisations.”

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