Waterford hurling fans will draw a massive amount of comfort from the news that ace goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe is not packing away his hurling kit-bag for good.
By Paddy Hickey
In the wake of the Deise’s loss to Limerick in the All-Ireland final in December, O’Keeffe dropped a bombshell when he informed team boss Liam Cahill that he wished to opt out of this year’s inter-county campaign.
Understandably, the news came as a massive shock to Waterford hurling fans, all the more so as the Ballygunner clubman is only 29 years of age.
As well, O’Keeffe performed superbly between the posts during the 2020 campaign, with his miraculous double-save early on being one of the highlights of the clash against John Kiely’s charges.
But now Ballygunner team manager Darragh O’Sullivan has revealed that, unlike many inter-county stars who opt to take a break from top-flight action, O’Keeffe has no plans to travel abroad this year and instead that he has committed to lining out with his clubmates in the 2021 Waterford Championship.
“Stephen will definitely be playing with us this year and obviously we’re delighted with that,” enthused former Waterford minor and under-21 player O’Sullivan.
“I am not exactly sure why Stephen has decided against playing with Waterford this year, but perhaps it’s due to the fact that he’s very busy at work.
“However, I am very aware of the fact that Stephen has been involved with Waterford since he came out of minor at just 18 years of age and that’s a phenomenal commitment for any player to have given to his county.
“But, of course, after taking a year out, Stephen might well decide to return to the Waterford set-up in 2022 and go on to have another seven or eight years as the first-choice goalkeeper for the county.
“On the other hand, whatever goalkeeper, or goalkeepers, the Waterford team-management decide to use this year will obviously be very keen to consolidate their status in the team for next year and subsequent years.
“And that could make it difficult for Stephen to regain the No 1 jersey if he does decide to make a return in 2022,” added O’Sullivan who took over in the Ballygunner hot seat from former Waterford stalwart Fergal Hartley at the start of the 2019 campaign.
On O’Keeffe’s decision to assist his club in their bid to record a remarkable eighth county title on the trot, O’Sullivan said: “Stephen is hugely committed to Ballygunner and a tremendous servant for the club, in terms of his ability on the pitch, the example he sets in the dressing room and the great inspiration he provides for the young lads in the club.
“In our last seven county title wins, Stephen has conceded only a total of two goals.
“His availability for this year is additionally welcome as our second choice goalkeeper Paddy Cooke is emigrating to Portugal.
“And this will mean that a number of younger lads, such as Mark Kilgannon, who played with Waterford minors in 2019, will be battling it out for the position of being Stephen’s understudy” added O’Sullivan who won seven county titles with Ballygunner and featured with Waterford minors in 1992 and 1993 and with his county’s under-21 side in 1995 and 1996.