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James Keddy was synonymous with successful League of Ireland sides in the 1990’s and 2000’s. A League winner with Derry City and Shelbourne, the Dubliner’s adroit, thoughtful style of play, and compelling pitch presence; made him one of the League’s stand-out protagonists of this era.
Here he talks about his career and its successes, innate ability and working hard on your game, and the memories that still stay with him.
Brian Strahan: You left Home Farm as director of football last November. Have you got back into the game?
James Keddy: No, enjoying a break at the minute.
BS: Were you sorry to leave?
JK: No, I was not sad to leave Home Farm. It is difficult coming from a professional background and working with people who do not understand what it takes to win on and off the pitch.
I learned a great deal about schoolboy football, dealing with people at board level, how far behind the kids are today, the standard of coaching, parent’s expectations, etc. So I would take a lot of positives out of the experience.
BS: In an interview a couple of years ago you said it was a very difficult thing developing kids all the way through. Is it different to say when you were a kid?
JK: Of course, we came in from school did our homework as quick as we could and then played football until dinner time, back out after dinner and played until our parents called us to come in. We loved the game, we didn’t know it but we probably practised five hours on average every day. In school we played with tennis balls in the morning before school and break time against older boys. So we learned to look after ourselves, using our body protecting the ball. Nowadays the kids practice very little unfortunately.
BS: Is there an irony in that our generation who were so active seem to be allowing our kids to be less active?
JK: I suppose there is, fortunately the kids today have a lot more than what we had; families are smaller, most kids go onto third level college, society has changed. It’s trying to get the balance right; family, education and football.
BS: Where did you grow up?
BS: And was St. Mary’s your first club?
JK: Yes, it was, 8 to 11, then I went to St Josephs, Sallynoggin, Ballybrack at under-16 for a year, back to Joe’s (St. Joseph’s) then for 2 years, that was my full schoolboy career. I struggled from 13 until 18 because I was very small compared to boys my age, even though I was technically very good.
BS: How do you get yourself to stand out when you do have that disadvantage of being small?
JK: My growth spurt only happened at 17. I was struggling because of my height, but my football intelligence and positional sense was above average and I would consider myself mentally strong even when I was young.
BS: This is something I’ve talked about to players before – that intelligence and positional sense. All that cerebral side of things, can you learn that? Or do you think it’s innate?
JK: Everything in life is learnable, it depends on the person’s attitude to learning and the person teaching.
BS: But is it, in its rawest form, innate?
JK: I suppose people find things easier more than others, it is a difficult part of the game to teach, anticipation, know-how, positional sense; and some players just seem to have it naturally. Liam Coyle would be a perfect example for me.
BS: Is he the most naturally gifted footballer the League of Ireland has produced? I mean in terms of not playing abroad?
JK: Yes, the man was a genius on the football pitch, it’s a shame what happened to Liam with that injury to his knee against Dundalk years ago. Ten clubs were interested in him at the time. I loved playing alongside him, our non-verbal communication was very good back then – football intelligence – he could read moves before they happened. He was by far the best player in the league back then and I was lucky enough to play two seasons with Derry.
BS: The recent tragedies at Derry must have hurt a lot, considering your connection.
JK: Terrible news for the families, the club and Derry City The people in Derry are genuine, honest and have been through tough times over the years, they have fantastic resilience, so I hope and pray they will slowly recover with time. I was co-commentating with Eric White on Radio Foyle earlier this year when Ryan was the best player on the park, it’s really hard to comprehend why this happened.
BS: He was some defender wasn’t he?
JK: He was excellent, one of the best in Ireland, real leader on a football pitch.
BS: You had a sustained League of Ireland career. You won almost every honour. What stands out?
JK: Two days stand out, the night we won the league with Derry against St Pat’s. I scored the first goal and Peter Hutton clinched it in the second half. There was 100000 fans in the Brandywell that night, unbelievable atmosphere. We had a well balanced team with a brilliant manager in Felix Healy.
Secondly the day we won the double in 2000 with Shelbourne, in Dalymount, against Bohemians in the replay of the Fai Cup. Bohs should easily have won the first game; I crossed for Pat Fenlon to side foot home. Another great day; very difficult to win a double, Dermot Keely had assembled a very experienced team, great memories both occasions.
BS: Do you appreciate these successes more as time passes?
JK: I suppose I do, they are nice memories to look back on.