"I am full of pride of my time at Connacht" - The Eoin McKeon Interview

12 June 2020

Eoin McKeon played 137 times for Connacht Rugby across a 10 year period beginning in 2010.
A local boy who came through the Connacht grassroots system, McKeon was also a starter in the 2016 Guinness PRO14 Grand Final and saw huge change at the club both on and off the field.
Connachtrugby.ie spoke to Eoin in the last few weeks about his time at the club and what the future holds.
Eoin firstly I would like to start by asking, how are you? It’s been a couple of months since COVID began and the suspension of rugby so how have you been the last couple of months?
I think it’s strange for everyone. Since the Taoiseach made the first announcement, we haven’t been on-site in The Sportsground. I think everyone including my family dealt quite well with it, there isn’t much any of us can do as it is out of our control. I have been trying to keep as busy as possible and keep ticking over in terms of training. We still have been able to get out and do a bit of exercise. I am making do with the gym equipment that was lent out to us at the start of lockdown and mentally trying to keep on top of everything. Overall, it’s been okay.
We were in South Africa near the end of February, we went straight into a break after that trip and had 10 days off. We were only back 1 day after that break and the announcement was made for everything to shut down. So, it’s been a long time since we played a game of rugby and been together as a group fully. It’s strange as you wouldn’t get that long of a break ever, I think the last time I had 3 months away from a rugby environment was before I left school.
When you were adjusting to the new norm of training from home did you enjoy it at first or did it get harder as the days went by?
I did enjoy it, it’s nice to get a change of scenery where you are not in the same place day after day. At the start, we were able to go to some of the local pitches, until lockdown got a bit tighter, which meant I then started running within the 5km of my house. It’s been enjoyable in general trying to adapt to the new conditions, it’s not ideal being away from the group and have everything shutdown, I am sure there are a lot of people who are a lot worse off than us, we are all counting our blessings that we are healthy and safe. Other than that, the first week or two took a bit of adjusting to but then it became the new norm. It will probably be weird going back to whatever it is the team does next, I won’t obviously be back at the summer but the lads going back in will find it hard to adjust and get back into a routine.
I’m sure it’s disappointing for yourself and the lads that you didn’t get a proper send-off at The Sportsground, but let’s go back to the first time you stepped foot in Connacht Rugby either as a PRO player or your first time as a fan?
My earliest memories would come from being a fan, I lived in a house that overlooked the main pitch in the green on College Road. From the time I was a baby until 5 years of age I lived in that house and then moved up the road. I have always been very close to The Sportsground. My parents would have been big supporters of Galwegians initially, then when the Celtic League and the Interpros became more prominent we naturally became big supporters of Connacht. The home club will always be Galwegians but as the professional game grew more, we started swaying more towards those games. I did everything from being a ball boy to selling programmes when I was younger. As I started playing a bit more, I entered the academy during school and then signed an academy contract coming out of school, that was the path I was on. I was always inspired to play with Connacht and go on to play professional rugby. As a fan, I didn’t think that far ahead in terms of what it took to go ahead and play fully professional, it was more of a pipe dream. Then as I got a bit older the path to get there became more concrete and clearer.
So because of your allegiance with Connacht growing up, that first time you took to the pitch on your debut must have been a pretty special feeling, what are your memories about it?
I think it was an away game to Scarlets, it was around the time a couple of games had been postponed due to weather, I think there was a week where the squad was playing Friday, Wednesday and Saturday. The Saturday was a game against Toulon, it was a pretty big game, I think it was a Semi-Final of the Challenge Cup at the time, I had just turned 18 and managed to get on the team on an away trip to Scarlets. The results weren’t too favourable for us, but I was delighted to get out, I had 40 minutes off the bench which I was delighted with. It’s a long time ago now.
Over the last 10 years you would have seen a huge amount of change in the organization both on and off the field, other than the PRO12 win in 2016 are there any other memories that stand out?
I spoke with Andy earlier and he was asking me similar questions. The PRO12 in 2016 is always up there but more personal ones would be signing my first full pro contract under Eric at the time. That was a pretty big deal, the following year we played Biarritz in the Heineken cup and getting a scalp over them at home. I remember that game as being a turning point for the club in the sense that we were in the biggest competition in Europe and able to get good results like that. That was a real standout moment, for where the club was going. There was momentum building for a couple of years, it would have been sad to not have gone and won something at that level. I was delighted that we were able to do it and win the PRO12 in 2016.
Since we are now on the 4th anniversary of that historic win in 2016, TG4 showed it a couple of weeks ago, had you watched it much before then or did you watch it on the night?
Shamelessly enough, I hadn’t watched that game back. We went straight into celebrations after and from that into holidays and before we knew it, we were back into a new season. Generally, you are not going back looking at games in a new season. Even though I had it recorded I had only seen little clips and snippets of try’s but had never sat down to watch the full game again. So, it was good to go back and watch it a couple of weeks ago on TG4 and relive that moment.
Were there particular moments that you watched back and thought god I forgot that happened?
It’s funny, any time you play a game what you think happened on the pitch is different to when you go and watch it on video. The perspective or view in general of what you are watching changes massively when you are playing to when you are watching it. There was a lot of stuff I had forgotten and certain moments that were huge pivot points in the game. There was one thing I wanted to see, I had popped a rib around ten minutes in, I was tackled by Mike Ross and I always wondered how I got twisted in the tackle. Then after seeing it I thought that did it alright.
Looking to the future Eoin, everyone knows you as the Eoin McKeon on the field but what about the Eoin McKeon off the field. What kind of areas do you see yourself working in the future? I know you’re involved in the RPI which people may not know about you.
I always try to stay relatively active off the field. I finished college back in 2014 and then myself and two of the other guys got involved in a start-up hub in Galway called the Portershed. A few us got involved with companies there through investment, I thought it would lead to more hands-on work, but it didn’t materialise. But it was great to get the experience, I then went back to college to do a business masters to keep myself ticking over. I was involved with two charities in Galway, 100 Men, and the Lifes2good foundation. That is how I keep myself mentally occupied off the pitch. With Rugby Players Ireland I had the opportunity to be a representative and sit on the board for the last 3 years. The experience I have gotten off that alone from dealing with Simon, Deirdre, and players from other provinces has been massive. I have always enjoyed doing stuff like that, the tech industry is standing out to me most of all as something quite appealing and something I am interested in. The only thing I can control now is what I am doing off the pitch. With the state of the virus now it is something I can’t control, that is why I am putting the focus on my career whether it be off the pitch and on the pitch. I will be making the right choice for me going forward whether it is something in tech or something else.
You touched on something important there in terms of rugby players making sure they are prepared and in a really good position to carry on and do something they like when their career ends. It is good to hear that you put so much emphasis on that the last few years.
It was always known that you are only one injury away from retirement. Luckily, I didn’t have a career-ending injury but I tried to do as much as I could to have myself as well prepared as possible for when the day came. It’s always going to be a bit of a shock no matter how well prepared you are, at the end of the day you are still moving profession, club or country, it is still going to be a big change no matter what way you look at it. You are going to have to do it at some stage, that’s why it is so important for lads to do as much as they can, so the transition is that bit easier. I am lucky in the sense that I have no kids, it’s just my girlfriend and me, but down the line, some guys retire with 3 or 4 kids which is another pressure they have on themselves to go in and find a job straight away after rugby. I am comfortable where I am, and it is exciting times.
If you look ahead to 10 or 20 years and your future sons or daughters are asking you what it was like to have played for Connacht, what would you say to them when you look back on the 10 years in Connacht?
I am full of pride; it was my boyhood club growing up. As a teenager or child, I never thought that I would have gone on and played for Connacht. It’s a club that I have no doubt are going to get to the top of their game again and go on to win more trophies. Where it’s being steered now from the coaches to S&C, the medical staff, I think they are doing a great job with what they have there. The game is getting more and more professional and competitive. I don’t see why any kid coming up through the Connacht system couldn’t achieve or strive to play for Connacht.
Finally, Eoin, it’s disappointing that the fans weren’t able to give you a proper send-off at the end of the season, hopefully, that will transpire next season when we have fans back at games again. Would there be any message that you have for the Connacht fans?
I have always felt very welcome at Connacht even though it’s where I am from. I have only ever got positive messages from the fans, who have always been unbelievable support. It must be said that the people of Connacht are extremely warm. They stuck with us through the tough times and I have been through a lot of tough times with this club. It was nice to be able to reward them with good times when they were there. I have nothing but thanks and love for all the fans here at Connacht.
Lastly, I would like to thank all the coaches I have worked with and the staff behind the scenes. Everyone has been unbelievably helpful. I am very appreciative of all the opportunities I have been given through Connacht Rugby. It is something I will cherish forever.