Jack Keaney in action for Sligo Rovers against Finn Harps defender Ciaran Coll. Pic: Stephen Doherty.
Jack Keaney admits he had an inkling that something was afoot when he was told to bring his passport to training last month.
A couple of days later, his suspicions were confirmed when his dad Paddy got an email confirming the player’s call-up to the Republic of Ireland U-18 squad.
For those who have followed the Donegal town man’s progression in recent months, it was just rewards. Jack has been enjoying a fine season at Sligo Rovers and only a few weeks ago, he made his first start for the first team in a 1-0 EA Sports League Cup win at Finn Harps.
“My dad and my brother Luke saw the email and they were able to break the news to me,” he said.
“It was unreal. I think I got the news on the Wednesday and by Friday morning we had to meet up at the Maldron Hotel in Dublin. It was all really quick.”
The Irish squad spent two days in Wolverhampton where they were joined by the English-based players in the panel. They trained at the Wolves training ground and then spent a week at the Slovakia Cup where Jack played in all four games with the tournament ending in defeat to the host nation in a 3rd/4th place play-off.
Jack’s team-mate at Sligo, goalkeeper Edward McGinty, whose father, Joe, is from Lough Eske, now living in Ballyshannon, was also in the squad.
His call-up to the Ireland squad has undoubtedly been the highlight of Jack’s young career.
“It was a fantastic experience,” he said.
“I was a wee bit nervous because I didn’t really know many of the lads, but the manager (Jim Crawford) was really good. He just told me to go out and play my normal game, and that I was good enough to be in the side, and that’s what I did.”
Keaney thinks Crawford may have watched him play for Sligo Rovers at Drogheda United in the League of Ireland U-19 division.
The 18-year-old is a regular in the Sligo U-19 side and plays at centre midfield. He speaks highly of his manager at Sligo, Killybegs man Brian Dorrian who knows that Jack has more on his plate than just football at present.
A student at Abbey Vocational School, Jack is in his Leaving Cert year and is hoping to concentrate a lot more on his studies in the run-up to his exams.
“In fairness to Brian, he fully understands that this is a busy time with the Leaving Cert,” he said.
“He’s been brilliant, and the teachers have been brilliant too, especially when I was away with the Ireland squad.”
Jack, who played his underage football with Donegal Town FC, comes from a strong sporting family. A son of Paddy and Deirdre, his brother Luke is a former senior footballer with Donegal and his sister Kate will play for Donegal in Sunday’s Lidl Ladies Division One League final against Cork.
Younger brother David plays with Four Masters.
Unfortunately for Jack, he doesn’t think he’ll get to Kate’s big game this weekend.
“We’ve a game for the U-19s so I don’t think I’ll be there,” he said.
“But she’ll have all my support from here, and hopefully they’ll win it.”
The Republic of Ireland team pictured at the Slovakia Cup with Jack Keaney wearing No.15 (back row). Goalkeeper Edward McGinty, whose father is from Lough Eske, was also in the squad.