From Derby delight to Glory Down Under – Andy Keogh has no regrets

Among the many memorable moments from Wolves’ 2008/09 Championship-winning season, it remains one of the most iconic images...writes Paul Berry.

Andy Keogh, bare-chested, bulging biceps, screaming to the heavens, surrounded by a posse of ecstatic team-mates.

Kyel Reid looking quietly content, David Jones looking at Keogh, Kevin Foley looking at the celebrating mass of Wolves fans behind the goal.

And Sam Vokes, unable to look anywhere because someone – yes, you Richard Stearman – was poking a finger in his eye.

It is an incredible picture that for many years adorned the front of the Billy Wright Stand to the left of the main entrance outside Molineux.

The image was captured moments after Keogh had just headed home Marlon Harewood’s cross for what would be an 87th minute winner for Wolves at Derby, completing a comeback from 2-1 behind to secure a thrilling 3-2 victory.

It was a late Easter Monday Ram Raid which, with results elsewhere, took Wolves to the brink of promotion, then secured five days later against Queens Park Rangers in front of a delirious Molineux.

However, “we were bobbins,” was boss Mick McCarthy’s post-match verdict. “Bloody awful, rubbish…but we kept going.”

And on the matchwinner, who had also volleyed home what would prove Wolves’ Goal of the Season at the start of the afternoon?

“I’ve just asked him what that ‘Keogh, Keogh’ chant is all about – I’ve not heard it for a while,” said McCarthy, never shy of an opportunity to make his point.

That was perhaps a reflection on the striker’s sometimes strained relationship with the Molineux masses, which, it has to be said, was never one which was down to Keogh.

A talented frontman with a prodigious workrate, the Irishman, by his own admission, probably didn’t at that time produce a goal return to match his all-round ability.

“I’ve brought more goals into game from maybe my mid-twenties onwards,” he reflects.

“As I’ve got older I’ve become more selfish, and that is when I have been banging a few more goals in.”

Even so, at that time Keogh certainly had the handsome knack of making key contributions for Wolves, just when they were needed.

That brace against Derby was followed by teeing up Sylvan Ebanks-Blake for the crucial promotion-clinching finish against QPR, and then, a few short months later, Keogh would head home the goal which secured Wolves’ first ever away win in the Premier League, at Wigan.

And even before the start of Wolves’ promotion campaign, Keogh had also scored the first goal of Giovanni Trapattoni’s reign as Ireland manager, which would later be named the FAI’s Goal of the Year.

Now 34, Keogh has just signed for a third spell with Perth Glory in the Australian League, where he is already acclaimed as a hero.

Keogh has proved a big hit at Perth

As if to prove his point about his goalscoring maturing like a fine wine, his 55 goals in two previous stints makes him their most prolific A-League striker, and he was also top scorer in helping Perth win the Premiership in 2018/19.

It has been quite a career, and there are still more chapters to come from a story which began for this wide-eyed and ambitious 15-year-old from Dublin in crossing the Irish Sea to link up with Leeds United.

“Playing football was my dream growing up,” recalls Keogh, who was also a promising rugby player as a youngster.

“To be picked from schoolboy football in Ireland and get the chance to go over to the UK with a chance to realise that dream was a great moment.

“It was a very proud moment, but daunting as well, leaving home at 15 to go off and pursue a potential career.”

Daunting for sure, but It wasn’t the first Keogh decision which would ultimately prove justified.

While he would only make one appearance as a substitute for Leeds, loan spells at Scunthorpe and Bury got the young striker off and running before he really hit his straps when joining the Iron on a permanent basis and forming a superb partnership with Billy Sharp.

And that is when Wolves came calling.

“I had been playing well at Scunthorpe and heard a few inklings that Wolves were interested,” says Keogh.

“The interest grew, they put a couple of bids in and it came to fruition really quickly.

“I had already been at a big club in Leeds, but I stepped down to try and come back again, and I really enjoyed it at Scunthorpe before getting the move.

“And I felt more confident joining another big club by this time - I was a few years older and more mature.

“Wolves paid a nice fee for me and that gave me confidence as well, that they believed in what I could do.

“There was a bit of a rebuild going on with similar players to myself coming in from lower teams and I was definitely looking forward to having a crack at the higher level.”

It certainly was an exciting time to be at Wolves with a group of players who adopted the ‘young and hungry’ ethos of the club pursued by McCarthy, with a sprinkling of know-how and experience which would eventually help them over the line.

They captured the imagination of the Molineux public, to the extent that even a 6-0 home reverse against Southampton was greeted with a standing ovation, and play-off defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the end of Keogh’s first half-season wasn’t greeted as the sort of disaster it might normally have been.

Wolves just missed out on the play-offs in the striker’s first full season at Molineux, before then blazing a trail to that Championship title when Keogh was one of four talented frontmen – Ebanks-Blake, Iwelumo and Vokes completing the quartet – providing the firepower.

Andy Keogh wtth Republic of Ireland

“Getting in the play-offs in that first season maybe came a bit early, but you can’t pick these things and stranger things have happened,” Keogh suggests.

“Had we hung on to the 2-1 lead in the first leg at Molineux maybe it could have been different.

“But there was always a lot of confidence within the squad.

“We had a good great group and a good backroom staff behind us, and with the addition of new players, enhancing the squad, for me it was always a matter of ‘when’ we were going to get promoted and not ‘if’.

“That promotion season was the culmination of a couple of years progression, alongside that extra bit of competition for places and everyone knowing each other that little bit more.

“It ended up not mattering who was playing – everyone did their jobs and whoever wasn’t in the team would support them – and we finished off with the Championship trophy.

“For me it was about trying to contribute on and off the pitch, particularly with that rotation up front, as it can be difficult at a young age if you are not playing week-in, week-out.

“That is when you have to put any ego aside for the benefit of the whole team and the bigger picture, and a lot of the lads did that and those who didn’t were the ones that moved on.

“It was always nice to feel I had played a significant part in helping the team achieve their goals, and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time for that goal at Derby.

“And then against QPR it was good to be able to make a difference to get in the cross for Sylvan to grab the winning goal.

“To contribute significantly like that at the end of the season was satisfying for myself personally, but it was all about the team and the success that we enjoyed together.”

Keogh would also go on and contribute significantly at the start of the following campaign, and provide the goal which secured Wolves’ first ever away win in the Premier League.

The 19 away fixtures in the 2003/04 campaign had yielded seven draws and 12 defeats, and when McCarthy’s Wolves – who had opened the campaign with defeat to West Ham – headed to a Wigan side which had kicked off with victory at Aston Villa, few might have expected that sequence to be broken.

That was to disregard the ability and character within that burgeoning Wolves squad and, even missing pretty much every senior striker apart from Keogh, and including 16-year-old James Spray on the substitute’s bench, a sixth-minute header proved decisive.

“That goal was without doubt one of my favourite moments in football,” Keogh reveals.

“The Premier League is where I set out dreaming of playing, and to finally be there, and score my first goal, was bringing those dreams to realisation.”

Ultimately it would prove Keogh’s one and only Premier League goal, but to a large extent through no fault of his own.

Wolves twice bought in record striker signings in Kevin Doyle and Steven Fletcher, and also for the most part operated with a lone frontman, and so opportunities became limited.

“I felt I started in the Premier League quite well, I felt comfortable there and people looked at me and said I looked comfortable as well,” says Keogh.

“It was difficult for all of us as a promoted team, but I thought I did well, but then football always changes.

“New players got signed, I got a bad injury after a freak accident in training and it all went downhill from there in terms of trying to get back in the team.

“Then, when I got back, more players had been signed and my pathway was blocked even more.

“In saying that, I am sure I could have approached things differently and maybe I could have held tight and battled a bit harder.

“I had a great relationship with Mick who was always up front and honest with me and gave me every opportunity so I definitely have no complaints there.

“And overall, all I had at Wolves was a great time and memorable moments.

“It was one of the most special times of my career, to be part of such a good club with great ambition and be working with similar people with the same ambitions.

“The likes of Kightly, Ward, Jarvis, Henry, Ebanks-Blake, Foley, Stearman – I could name more but these guys were very similar to me and to be part of that squad was fantastic.

“It was also a great learning curve discovering what is important and what it took to be part of a special group like that.”

Amidst such a tight-knit group, as much friends off the pitch as colleagues on it, players and staff are always ready to back each other - publicly if needed - when times get tough.

There were one or two occasions when Keogh would play out of position, and when his selfless running for the team might hamper his impact in front of goal, and there was one such episode, during that promotion-winning season, when McCarthy launched an impassioned defence of the Irishman.

The man himself, who notched 23 goals from 88 starts and 41 substitute appearances whilst at Molineux, was always able to look himself in the mirror.

His ability to hold the ball up, run the channels, bring others into play, link with a strike partner or operate as a lone frontman, were qualities which were perhaps sometimes under-appreciated on occasions during Wolves’ rise.

It should also be noted however, that the team of 2008/09 is certainly one whose appeal and standing among the fans has endured, perhaps even increased, over the passing of time.

When Keogh graced Molineux on his first return back just over two years from his final Wolves appearance, and scored the winner for Millwall, he received a warm reception. Before the goal, anyway!

“The one thing I would always say is whatever people thought of my talent – some might say good and some might say not so good – would they rather a player who didn’t try?” he asks.

“All I know is that every single time I crossed the white line for Wolves, I gave my all and gave everything for the club to be victorious on that day.

“That is something I am very proud of, and in football there are players who aren’t like that, players who are self-orientated and only worry about themselves.

“It is great to see Wolves doing so well now, with the investment and the players they have been able to recruit, and maybe you then look back at what we achieved as an eye-opener.

“It comes back to always caring about the club, and working as hard as I could.

“There is a reason some players might be paid 100 grand a week, and others five grand a week, due to talent and natural ability, but if a player is giving his all to the cause, then there should never be a problem with that.

“If people wanted to have a go at me, talent-wise, then all fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Keogh with daughter

“But I don’t think you could ever question my work ethic or desire for the team.

“When I came back and scored for Millwall, it felt like half the stadium were cheering me and half weren’t, and maybe that kind of summed up how I was regarded.

“But the reception I got was something that was very touching, because I have such brilliant memories of my time at Wolves.”

Keogh had made a permanent switch from Wolves to Millwall, but in loan spells both before and after, he was also on target for Cardiff, Bristol City, back at Leeds, and Blackpool.

It was then, in the summer of 2014, that he asked himself a question that has gone on to shape the second half of his footballing career: “I had reached the stage where was I either going to become a journeyman striker in the Championship, or was I going to try something different?”

Keogh opted for “something different”, moving to Perth Glory in the A-League, returning to the same part of Western Australia which Wolves had visited for pre-season in 2009, when Keogh had impressed in a friendly.

Two hugely successful spells have followed, interspersed with other stays in Thailand, Saudi Arabia and India, and now he is back with Perth, a return which has been very well received.

“Looking back now, choosing something different was an absolutely fantastic move,” says Keogh.

“The lifestyle for the kids here is great, we are now Australian citizens and have dual passports, and the football is getting better and is now a very competitive league.

“I have managed to score a lot of goals, and I think scoring more is something I brought into my career from maybe my mid-twenties onwards.

“I always felt if I contributed to the team I was happy, but people say I needed to score more, and so maybe now I am more selfish in front of goal.”

That Premiers Plate triumph for Perth, their first silverware for 15 years, came in a season when Keogh notched 17 goals, but it is the experiences off the pitch as well as on which have justified his move.

“Playing in Australia and other parts of Asia have brought me to see some wonderful places and experience different leagues,” he explains.

“It has given me life experience but has also improved my game.

“Sometimes you can live in a bubble in the UK and not quite realise what is out there.

“Another former Wolves striker Adam Le Fondre is another who got himself out of the bubble and came out to play for Sydney and is now playing in India.

“I have experienced different continents, different religions, different cultures and a different way of life.

“It have given me a fantastic grounding for when I do eventually hang my boots up and move on to the next stage of my career.”

That day, ideally, is still some distance away.

Keogh has already been involved in coaching, and is taking his badges, but is also keen to heed the advice of a former Wolves captain who left him in no doubt what the next few years should hold.

“I was actually speaking to Jody Craddock recently, and he said that the best thing he could tell me was to carry on playing as long as I could,” says Keogh.

“It’s simple advice, but when it comes from someone like Jody, then you listen!

“That I what I plan to do, along with taking my badges, and I am in the middle of my Pro Licence at the moment.

“To have that boxed off by the time I retire will be nice, and then we can see what happens!”

So yes, it has been quite a journey for that teenager crossing the Irish Sea at 15, and one whom, even now with a dual passport, is immensely proud of representing his country.

Keogh cites the higher platform enjoyed with Wolves, and the influence of McCarthy, as pivotal in helping him earn that chance with Ireland, eventually picking up 30 caps and scoring both the first goal of Trapattoni’s reign against Serbia and later, against Germany.

There is no certainly not even a hint of looking back at a career already spanning two decades and with more still to come, as he enjoys life in Australia with his family.

“You can’t have any regrets can you? And I am very pleased with how everything has gone.

“I do look back at Wolves sometimes and wonder if I could have hung on a bit longer, tried to get back in the team and contribute more in the Premier League, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“At the time I was young and energetic, and when you are like that you just want to play as many games as you can.

“It was never about the money for me, it was about playing, and enhancing my reputation.

“Everything happens for a reason, and my career path just went in a different direction, but one I am thoroughly enjoying.”

Having travelled the world in pursuit of his dream, and realised it many times over, there is a certain irony to that iconic picture, of a celebrating Keogh and co, moving to the brink of reaching the Promised Land of the Premier League.

Iconic because it took place barely 40 miles away, just up the A38 in Derby.

He hasn’t looked back since.

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