“The Day They Announced The Irish Squad Was The Day I Tore My ACL”

As far as professional debuts go, it’s difficult to write the script for one as perfect as 20-year-old AEK Larnaca striker József Keaveny’s.

With 85 minutes gone in their Cypriot First Division clash against Doxa Katokopias, and the game level at 1-1, Keaveny came off the bench for his first taste of senior competitive football.

Less than ten minutes later and with the last action of the game, the striker had the ball in the net and AEK Larnaca had their first win in four games.

On the surface, the moment was tremendous for both the player and the club but dig a little deeper into Keaveny’s journey and it’s clear why the goal, the occasion, and even just being on the pitch, meant so much to the young striker.

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With a middle name like ‘Phelim,’ Keaveny’s Irish roots will come as little surprise to anyone.

The 20-year-old was born in Leicester, as were his mother and father, but his Irish links stem from three of his four grandparents as he told Pundit Arena.

“My grandmother on my mum’s side is from Derry and my father’s parents are from Cavan and Leitrim,” Keaveny explained.

“I was born in Leicester as were my mum and dad. My mum did spend a brief period growing up in Cork but she came back to England with her family when she was quite young still.”

Keaveny’s other grandparent, his mother’s father, is from Budapest, meaning he can also represent Hungary in addition to England and Ireland at international level.

So how does an English born striker of Hungarian and Irish descent end up playing at one of the biggest clubs in Cyprus?

It’s a long road, that starts with a breakthrough season at hometown club Leicester City at the age of 16, but ends in an injury that almost cost Keaveny his fledgling career before it had even truly begun.

“I spent ten years at Leicester,” he began.

“I loved it, it was quality. When I was U16s, that was the time I was getting called up for a couple of different countries.

“At 16 I trained with the Leicester first team the year they won the Premier League which was unreal. I was in really good form but then unfortunately I tore my ACL.

Keaveny initially spent 18 months on the sidelines with his ACL injury after some complications from the operation but after returning to training with Leicester the 20-year-old knew in the back of his mind that something still wasn’t quite right.

“I was back training for maybe two weeks after that and I could feel a bit of pain in my shin and I kicked the ball and my leg broke. I had a broken leg.

“I had some more knee problems then too and it got to the point where they found the articulate knee cartilage on my bone was eroding away.”

Keaveny’s injury was far more serious than he had ever imagined and there was a time when, even his club felt as though his career could be over without even so much as a single senior appearance to show for it.

The striker though credits his mother’s research and the help of Leicester City for an against-the-odds operation, which thankfully proved to be an unexpected success.

“At that point Leicester kind of told me to pack it in because they thought a comeback was unrealistic after so long out and suffering so much trauma to the knee.

“My mum did some research and looked into a few different people who got together with Leicester, I went for the operation and against the odds it was a success. I’m about 13 or 14 months post surgery now and my knee feels as good as it ever has.

Unfortunately for Keaveny though, his injury issues proved too much of a risk for Leicester and he was released by his hometown club during the summer.

The striker harbours no ill-will towards the team he has supported since he was a boy, and his Leicester exit quickly paved the way for the next chapter of his career, in Cyprus.

After a successful trial, Keaveny signed a two year contract with AEK Larnaca, who had finished second in last season’s Cypriot First Division and have been Europa League regulars over the past few years.

Keaveny has made three first team appearances and scored one goal as he continues to build himself back up from such a lengthy spell on the sidelines and despite having to adjust to certain unfamiliar aspects of the country, the move to Cyprus has been a success so far.

“I’m trying to adjust to the climate because it’s alien to me, especially December now, the sun is still shining, it’s still above 20 (degrees) everyday. In the summer the heat is ridiculous.”

“I got on the bench in some of the Europa League qualifiers which was good, it’s been a good experience so far.

“For me it was almost about starting from the bottom again. I say that, but I’ve ended up at a very big club in Cyprus, Europa League pretty much every year.

“There were a few clubs in England that my agent was saying we could have a look at but when the opportunity to come here came up, it wasn’t something I was looking to turn down. I saw it as an opportunity to test myself and to throw myself in the deep end and to try and build myself back up as soon as possible.”

Photo credit – AEK.com.cy

Building himself back up has been a theme of Keaveny’s career of late. Small steps in the right direction as he looks to return to the form which saw him called up to train with Leicester’s first team when he was just 16 years of age.

The striker’s form in the 2015/2016 season with The Foxes’ academy sides saw him catch the attention of both Hungary and Ireland’s underage setups.

After a week with Hungary’s U18s, Keaveny joined up with the Irish U17s for a training camp in England and after impressing, he was named in the squad for the upcoming games against Switzerland.

The timing of his call-up however, could not have been much worse.

“That was off the back of training with the first team at Leicester,” said Keaveny of his international call-ups.

“I was in good form for the U16s and U18s at Leicester I think I scored three hat-tricks in a row in the three games I played. We were turning teams over and then I got called up to Hungary’s U18s because my grandfather on my mum’s side is from Budapest.

“I went with them for a week which was good and whilst I was out there I got a phone call off a coach I had previously had at Leicester who I’m quite close with and he said he’d been talking to Don Givens and Tom Mohan and some people at the FAI and a week later I was with the Irish U17s, with lads like Declan Rice and Tyreke Wilson.

“We had a camp in England at QPR, it was good, I impressed them and off the back of that I got called up for the games against Switzerland in February 2016 and the day they announced the squad was the day I tore my ACL. It never came to be. I was gutted.”

The opportunity to represent the Boys in Green may have passed Keaveny three and half years ago, but he has not lost the ambition to play international football.

Having been born in England and previously receiving a call-up to the Hungarian U18s, Keaveny’s international options are open for him to explore.

He looks to his family though, and despite the Hungarian influence, the grá for Ireland has always been there.

As Keaveny recalls, it was Irish jerseys and Roy Keane posters on his wall when he was growing up, but the key for him is representing the country he feels closest to as opposed to the one he feels will boost his career.

“Growing up, you always look to your family. With my family, one of my dad’s cousins is heavily involved in the FAI on a regional level.

“Then you’d have my mum who was always buying me Irish kits, I never once owned an England kit. For me watching international football it would always be Ireland I’d turn on and following my family that’s always been my dream. I grew up a big Celtic fan, I had Roy Keane posters on my wall.

“There is a bit of influence from the Hungarian side of the family as well so they’re the two countries I’ve always looked out for so the dream has always been making your debut at that kind of level for a country you want to be playing for rather than a country you think is going to boost your career.”

Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here oisin@punditarena.com

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