Mark Keane set to commit to Cork hurlers after deciding not to return to Australia

Ballygiblin's junior success has led to the gifted athlete opting to stay at home instead of playing Aussie Rules with Collingwood
Mark Keane set to commit to Cork hurlers after deciding not to return to Australia

Ballygiblin centre back Mark Keane wins possession against Clyda Rovers in the Avondhu JAHC Final in Buttevant. Picture John Tarrant

MARK Keane made his name with his goal-scoring heroics for the Cork footballers against Kerry at rain-swept Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2020.

Underage he'd stood out as a minor and U20 footballer before he accepted the offer of an AFL apprenticeship with Aussie Rules powerhouse Collingwood. So, now that Keane has opted not to resume his career in Australia, picking up the big ball again in Rebel red would seem the obvious option.

However, the gifted athlete, who turns 22 in March, is set to commit to the Cork hurlers for the coming season.

Keane plays club football with Mitchelstown and hurls for sister club Ballygiblin, who he drove to a memorable Munster junior title against rivals from over the Tipp border Skeheenarinky from centre-back. He was switched to the forwards where he grabbed the key goal in the Cork decider against Dromtarriffe but had to leave the week after, missing Mitchelstown's IAFC final loss, to report in for Collingwood.

Keane came home again at Christmas for the Ballygiblin and Skeeheenarinky showdown, the first competitive meeting of the neighbours, and in the build-up, it is understood he was in action for the Cork hurlers in a challenge match with Limerick champions Kilmallock.

Ballygiblin's Darragh Flynn is new to the Cork hurling squad this season, while Cathail O'Mahony is involved with the footballers, though he has suffered from injuries since shining for the U20 footballers in 2019.

Keane told John Coughlan after Ballygiblin's win over Dromtarriffe that hurling was a major draw for him: "I would like one day to come back and play with Cork whether it's next year or the year after as I am seriously considering switching codes as I just love the sport.”

His coach, the vastly experienced Ronan Dwane, stated: "To be honest Mark is an incredible athlete and I have no doubt this man could play at the highest level of hurling as he’s got it all.”

 Mark Keane blasts in a goal against Dromtarriffe. Picture: Larry Cummins
Mark Keane blasts in a goal against Dromtarriffe. Picture: Larry Cummins

Last Sunday in Mallow, Keane wouldn't be drawn on his commitments Down Under and the news he's staying in Cork is a significant boost to his club colleagues, but also Cork fans.

He was actually coached by current Cork senior selector Diarmuid O'Sullivan in 2018 during his stint involved with Ballygiblin. A ball-winner and extremely mobile, the Rebels will audition Keane as an option in the middle third. 

His potential as a puck-out target is appealing, though his best position could be facing the sliotar in the half-backs or midfield.

Kieran Kingston and his management, including this year's additions Noel Furlong, Pat Mulcahy and Stephen Casey, are acutely aware of the need to beef up the starting 15 to take on Limerick's combination of skill, size and strength. Castlemartyr's Ciarán Joyce is expected to be fast-tracked from the All-Ireland winning U20s but even getting to the latter stages of the championship will be tough, regardless of Cork reaching last season's final.

DUAL DILEMMA

Keith Ricken's footballers would love to have access to Keane as well, but dual players haven't been facilitated by the Cork seniors since 2014 when Damien Cahalane, Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan attempted to balance both. Walsh and Cadogan switched between codes after, while Alan Cadogan briefly trained with the footballers after the Cork hurlers lost to Galway in 2015, coming on in the All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Donegal at Croke Park. 

Even underage, there have been fewer dual Cork players in the modern era, with St Finbarr's Brian Hayes and St Finbarr's/Castlehaven's Jack Cahalane the most high-profile exceptions. Last season the Cork minors forged on without any dual players, though the Barrs' Ben O'Connor would have been a standout in football if he hadn't concentrated on hurling; the Blues won the Premier 1 minor title with O'Connor immense at full-forward against St Michael's.

Jack Cahalane came on for the footballers in the McGrath Cup victory over Waterford last week but at 19 has time to make a decision though Hayes is understood to be gravitating towards football.

They have the lineage with the big ball, through their fathers Niall Cahalane and Paddy Hayes, though Jack's older brothers Conor and Damien are on the Kieran Kingston's hurling panel.

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