Dermot Keely has pretty much done it all in the League of Ireland.
After 35 years involved in the league as a player, manager, supporter and columnist a new chapter of his life recently began when he set up a bar in Lanzarote with his partner Jane Martin.
The pub, aptly named Keely’s, is based in the holiday hot spot of Puerto del Carmen and this Friday night will be like a home away from home for League of Ireland fans as it screens the Dundalk FC v Cork City match.
It’s the first of many which Dermot and Jane hope to broadcast in the weeks, months and years ahead. The league has been good to Dermot and he is eager to support it in any way he can. Already a number of jerseys don the walls from the Ryan McBride Foundation’s to Dundalk FC, St Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Home Farm. There is the promise of many more to come as well, including from now defunct clubs such as Kildare County.
Keely, for those unaware, must go down as one of Irish football’s most decorated individuals with 18 major trophies.
In a 17 season playing career which started out at Home Farm in 1973 and included spells at St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk, UCD and Shamrock Rovers before ending at Sligo Rovers in 1990, the former schoolteacher won it all – five league titles, five FAI Cups, a League of Ireland Cup, PFAI Player of the Year and SWAI Personality of the Year. That’s not to mention the Irish, Gold and Ulster Cups he won during a spell north of the border with Glentoran in the early 80s.
Not bad for a man who his long-time manager Jim McLaughlin famously said “couldn’t kick, couldn’t head nor couldn’t pass.”
While many people marvel about the recent European exploits of Dundalk in 2016 and Rovers five years earlier, Keely was part of a trailblazing Dundalk side that came within a whisker of a European Cup quarter-final tie against Real Madrid back in 1979/80.
Having beaten Linfield and Hibernians of Malta in previous rounds, Dundalk were applauded off the pitch at Celtic Park after going down 3-2 to Celtic. The Scottish champions then survived a major scare in the return leg when Keely’s best friend, the late Tommy McConville, went agonisingly close to scoring what would have been one of the most famous goals in Irish football history.
That wasn’t to be, of course, but Keely would go on to cement his place in Irish footballing folklore by being part of the famous Shamrock Rovers four-in-a-row side of the mid-80s. The last of those wins would come as player manager in 1986-87.
It was the start of a managerial career that would take the tally of League of Ireland clubs he was associated with to 14.
Keely would be as successful off the pitch as he was on it, adding to his title success by Rovers by winning leagues with Dundalk in 1994/95 and with Shelbourne in 1999/00 and 2001/02. That’s a record that makes him the joint second most successful manager in the league with his four league wins equal to that of current Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny and one shy of Pat Fenlon.
Add in FAI Cup wins with Shamrock Rovers in 1987 and Shels in 2000, a League of Ireland First Division Shield with Home Farm Everton in 1998 and promotions from the First Division with both Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps and it’s some feat on any level.
Keely turns 64 today (March 8th 2018) and for all he has achieved he admits that his toughest challenge might yet lay ahead as he gets used to life behind the bar he and Jane opened three weeks ago.
“It’s going well so far, for a new pub starting anyway. We’ve been quite some days but we’ve done really well. There have been a lot of people coming in who know us and we just need now to try and attract people in who don’t know us who are just walking down the street but it has been really healthy so far with the people just walking in who know both Jane and myself.”
Jane, with her background in hotel management, was the driving force behind Keely’s new venture. Having taken retirement last year from her role as a regional organiser for Sinn Féin, where she worked on election campaigns for the likes of Gerry Adams and the late Martin McGuinness, the couple plotted their retirement in Lanzarote. When she suggested they open a bar, Dermot went along with it but he admits he never expected it to come to fruition.
“Jane has been coming over here for 20 years and she worked over here for a year full-time. I met her less than four years ago and came over with her that first Christmas and loved the place.
“Jane was an organiser in Sinn Féin for years but there’s none of us getting any younger so when the chance came to take retirement she took it. We both said the same thing, why sit here in Ireland in the cold so rather than doing nothing in the sun we said we’d look at getting a small bar.
“It took us five months but now it’s up and running so we’re going to see can we make a go of it.
“I wouldn’t have got off the ground without her. She was the driving force in getting the pub, I just went along with her. I never really thought it would happen. I was never convinced. Now I’m standing here looking at ‘Keely’s Irish Pub’ and I still pinch myself.
“I’m in a different world and it’s lovely. As anyone who has ever ran a pub will know, you have your headaches and everything else. Last Sunday night I went to bed and for the first time in my life I was that tired I wasn’t able to talk. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be doing food so you’re in here from 8.30am to possibly 2am so it is hard, especially as there’s only two of us, but my hope is that I’m tired out completely from the business coming in and if that happens we can think about taking a bit of help on to let us out for a few nights on the lash.
“There’s not many people who have the opportunity to start a new career at 64.I don’t know whether I’m mad or a changed individual but probably the first one,” he laughed.
So what attracted the couple to their new location on Calle Roque Nublo in old town Puerto del Carmen?
“It was the right price,” he laughed.
“It’s also in the middle of the old town in Puerto del Carmen. It’s a smashing site. The footfall here all year round is great and we’re opposite probably the most famous restaurant in Puerto del Carmen, La Cascada.
“There’s an awful lot of people walking by so it shouldn’t be hard to get a small percentage in. It was a no brainer.
“We had searched and searched and searched but most of the pubs were far too dear and we just weren’t in that league because we’re just two ordinary people. We found this though and I think it was just a case of being in the right place at the right time.
“We came over with a bar in mind and we were told it was available but when we came over it wasn’t available so we didn’t come over on a wing and a prayer. That was a bit of a disappointment and it took us five months then to find one that suited us and that we could afford.”
With no bar experience in his life before, Dermot stressed the word “absolutely” when asked was it a big change to be behind one for the first time.
“From being an expert at the other side of the bar, I now have to put up with barstoolers. All my life I moaned and groaned about them and now I’ve become one.
“I have to watch a match on telly and know everything. I now have an opinion on everything from racing to rugby and I’m mostly wrong so it’s a big change. I’m used to talking bollocks but now I’m sober talking it.
“I’m lucky I have Jane because I’m a bit clumsy behind the bar. I’m always knocking things down. I’ve continued as my life progresses to knock things over whether it be falling over chairs or knocking glasses but I’m beginning to get a bit better to the point where now I feel comfortable behind the bar.
“We’re into March now with Paddy’s Day and Cheltenham coming up so it should pick up now as it’s full of Irish over here. I’m really enjoying it though. This whole thing would have been much more Jane’s doing than mine. I would never have taught about opening a bar. I could never have seen myself the other side of it. It’s actually really enjoyable though. The bottom line is I like meeting people and talking shite so I’m just talking it the other side now.”
One of the things Keely gave up to prepare for his new life in Lanzarote was his long-running column on the League of Ireland. While many emigrants crave the likes of Tayto Crisps or Chef Sauces when they move abroad, for Dermot it is the League of Ireland that he really misses.
“I miss the column,” he said.
“I watch Soccer Republic on a Monday and I’m amazed again at the people who are on it. They don’t have an opinion. There’s nothing said on it and that drives me mad.
“I’d love to be writing a column this week or last week because I haven’t changed my views at all. Sometimes you can say you’re too involved in it but with coming away and looking at it from a distance I just feel there’s so much you can say that would be good for the improvement of the league.
“It looks better this year in that they appear to be showing more matches, which is good but I still think we need more coverage and coverage of the big games. You look at the rugby and Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht get much more coverage even at that level.
“There’s a huge marketing campaign needed to support the league. A lot of the clubs have taken it on this year and Bohs, for instance, did great work this year in the PR area with trying to sell the league. Others have done it too but it would be nice to see them get some kind of central backing from the FAI but it never appears to happen. It’s always, always based on the clubs.”
One place that will definitely be supporting the league is Keely’s Bar.
“The shirts on the wall are League of Ireland and Gaelic, there’s no Manchester United or any of those. To be a real Irish pub that’s what’s going on the wall. That’s the way we want it to be.
“You’re obviously not going to make a living just showing League of Ireland because there’s not enough followers but I’d hope people would get to know this as an Irish pub as opposed to a pub run by two Irish people. It’s a proper Irish pub and people when they come in will know that. I’m proud of that because Ireland has been very good to me. Jane is the same, we’re proud to be Irish and the pub is going to reflect that.”
Dermot, who kept no memorabilia from his time as a player or manager despite all his accolades, is now embarking on a project to fill the pub with items from the league.
“At the moment we’ve a Ryan McBride jersey, a Dundalk jersey and a Pat’s one up on the walls. I’m waiting on a Home Farm one at the moment to complete my own collection and a Shels one is coming across too.
“Because Dundalk is what me and Jane really are – we might not be from the town but we’re very much of the town – eirSport are doing a flag with the Dundalk crest and Keely’s Bar underneath it and we’ll have that soon. I’m not going to put up stuff for the sake of it but stuff that is meaningful will go up on the wall,” he said.
Anyone who walks into Keely’s Bar in the weeks and months ahead can look forward to a chat with Dermot about many eras of the League of Ireland. While a proud Dub, he is most commonly associated with Dundalk, something he laughs about given the fact he played just three seasons there from 1978/79 to 1980/81.
“This amazes me. I was in Dundalk for three years, that’s all.
“I know I played there and went back and managed the team but the number of people who come in here and talk to me like I was there for 10 years is amazing. I’m absolutely an adopted Dundalk person.
“One person since I came in has come in and talked about Rovers and that wasn’t even about me playing there it was the selling of the ground and all that, which is fine. I don’t mind talking about any of those issues but even people who knew my name just and don’t know me from Adam come in and say ‘you’re the Dundalk fella’.
“It’s absolutely amazing that I could play four years at Rovers, win four in-a-row, three doubles. It was colossal what that side achieved and then you’re not even known for it. I’m better known for playing three years in Dundalk. Even the Dundalk fellas come in and say you must have been there for 10 years but no It was only three.
“People coming in from country areas like Tipperary or Kilkenny, who don’t follow League of Ireland, are walking in and are saying ‘you’re the Dundalk Keely’. No one walks in and says ‘you’re the Rovers Keely’. I take it as a compliment because the people of Dundalk adopted me and I loved it from the day I got there, so much so that later in life that I upped sticks and moved there for 12 years.
“People just took to me for whatever reason. Being an assassin and it being along the border probably helped,” he laughed.
Keely said his one disappointment is that his good friend Tommy McConville, who passed away in October 2013, wasn’t able to see him behind the bar.
“The only thing I regret is that Tommy’s not alive but then I think maybe it’s just as well because he’d be over here for drink and he wouldn’t be paying me for it so he’d probably have me broke at this stage,” he laughed.
“I definitely wouldn’t have been doing my work properly if he was around. I’m not religious but sometimes I be standing behind the bar and I just think, if he’s looking down he’d be saying ‘Holy jaysus’. I just smile to myself because I can often see him just sitting at the end of the bar saying how are you doing kid, or whatever.
“It’s just an off the wall thing for me to do and I can just picture him saying you’re mad.”
Dermot is sure to have a tipple today to mark his birthday but it will only be the warm up for tomorrow night when he sits back in Keely’s Bar to watch Dundalk v Cork City.
It might be early days but he feels a win is a must for Stephen Kenny’s side.
“It’s important that we win,” he said.
“They’ve had the upper hand so it’s important to put the fear factor back. They’re a good side and you don’t want them getting too far ahead but the fact the sides play four sides this year I think is a huge advantage for Dundalk.
“I’ll be sitting watching it in the bar here shouting and roaring at the screen and hopefully I’ve a few Dundalk or Cork heads beside me.”
If you’re a League of Ireland fan and in Lanzarote be sure to call in. You’ll be greeted with a smile and a pint that in Dermot’s own words is “not bad”. The chat is unlikely to be dull either.
James Rogers (@JamesDundalk)
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