FOOTBALL: Flying the flag – The Big Interview with New York captain Kelly Keating
By DARAGH SMALL (Pictured are Kelly and Stevie Keating, with Hailey (back left), Hannah (front left) and Emily)
Railyard is the footballing heartbeat that has always been the exception to the rule in Kilkenny, and that pulse has extended all the way to the Big Apple in recent years.
This week, three of their natives returned home, one of which is now the captain of the New York Ladies football team.
Antrim and Limerick were in opposition this time around and although the results did not go in their favour, the message is clear: New York want to be competitive in the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship.
Captain Kelly Keating and her teammates, sister Sara Roche and Marie Dargan, also believe that Ladies football in Kilkenny can return to prominence too.
Both of these teams have contested All-Irelands in the past 15 years, while the Cats were even crowned champions back in 2007.
“Marie was full-forward when Kilkenny won the All-Ireland,” said Keating.
“In Kilkenny, it’s just the development, camogie takes over so much. Camogie and hurling are the first sports so people put football to the back step. But I was at our local club there the other night and the minors were training and they have such a good standard.
“It’s just to keep girls going. Girls stay longer at camogie in Kilkenny than they actually do at Ladies football. Our local club pushes football but there are loads of clubs that don’t.
“For kids growing up, you want them to play what they love but camogie and Ladies football, there is no reason why they can’t play both. They shouldn’t have to pick a sport at underage.
“I know it’s hard for people but there are plenty of dual stars out there these days. Ladies football is as good as camogie and I just wish players would stick with both, especially in Kilkenny.
“Obviously it would be hard for us to play against them because I am from Kilkenny but there is no reason why Kilkenny shouldn’t be competing in the Junior Championship. There are enough people that love Ladies football and play it.”
Keating grew up on the Kilkenny-Laois border and flourished with her local club, who set up a Ladies football team in 2001.
Railyard went on to compete in the Laois championship, where they were extremely successful. And two years after their foundation, they had claimed their first county title.
By 2004, Railyard were winning the Laois Intermediate title, while they were crowned junior champions in the province.
Railyard doubled-up as the Kilkenny team and while Keating began to forge a career in the game, the county became more and more competitive.
Then, in 2007, Kilkenny beat London in the TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship Final, although Keating had already started her new life abroad.
She spotted an advertisement in the Kilkenny People newspaper and went for it, taking up a waitressing job in Washington DC.
Keating eventually relocated to New York and from there she found her Irish roots again, with Gaelic games providing the ideal outlet.
“I honestly don’t think I would be still in New York, if I didn’t have the sport,” said Keating.
“You meet so many people. Your club becomes your second family. It’s a massive community that comes together out there.”
The 35-year-old now has three young children, Hannah (8), Emily (5) and Hailey (3), and they live in Yorktown Heights in the suburbs of New York City.
Keating has her own business, KK Business Solutions, where she does bookkeeping and never really gets the chance to switch off.
“I do payroll and audits for construction companies,” said Keating.
“It’s handy, you can do it from anywhere. I had my laptop with me in Ireland this week. I just hop on whenever I can.
“Whenever you get a free chance I go on it, it’s the New York lifestyle.”
But a few times a year, Keating does get a chance to return to Ireland and touch base with her hometown and her massive family – she has eight brothers and six sisters.
“I moved to New York because my two sisters were there,” said Keating.
“One of my sisters moved home since, but my other sister, Sara, is actually on the New York team with me.
“She is the youngest of my family, it’s just me and her in New York and then everyone else is at home.”
Keating is also captain of the Kerry/Donegal club now, part of the tightly knitted community that keeps her Irishness so immersed in her everyday life, although her daughters remain slightly torn between their nationalities, with so many ties to Ireland and the USA.
“When we were coming over on the plane, all they wanted to do is go over to granny’s,” said Keating.
“They didn’t really care about the football. When we got to the hotel for the first two nights, they couldn’t understand it. When we land here, we usually go straight to my mam’s house.
“I would try get home definitely two if not three times a year, the kids might only come once or twice with me.
“They know both of their parents are Irish and they tell people they speak Irish but they don’t. They say ‘madra’ for the dog – that’s about it. They know we are going to move back to Ireland eventually in the next few years.
“At the match the other day, they said they heard their song because they sang the American national anthem, my daughter was like, that’s our song. They are very proud of that, too.
“Obviously all of my family are Irish. So they love coming home and they love Ireland, maybe someday they will lose their American accent.”
Keating and her daughters returned home to the USA with the rest of the team on Wednesday but she enjoyed the experience. Like Kilkenny, she says New York is another team that determined to get back to the top.
“I’m sure after the match last Sunday (against Antrim), people thought we were just home for the holiday, we really weren’t,” said Keating.
“The league back in America is very strong, when I moved out there I couldn’t believe how strong the football was. It’s huge in New York.
“The Junior All-Ireland is the next level for New York to try and compete in.”