PLENTY TO CELEBRATE Ruairi Keating celebrates after scoring for Torquay United in the National League.
Ruairi Keating is making waves at Torquay United
FROM Westport to Torquay via Sligo, Galway and Donegal.
It’s safe to assume that Ruairí Keating knows more than most about the fine margins that can be the ultimate difference in making the breakthrough in professional sport.
Around this time last year, the Dublin-born striker — who grew up in Westport — sat down with his family to discuss his footballing future having left League of Ireland outfit Finn Harps.
Keating failed to settle in any club during his time in the Airtricity League – having spells with Sligo Rovers and Galway United before Finn Harps – and considered walking away from the game to explore other ways of life.
But he always had an aspiration to play across the pond, and when an opportunity arrived in the form of Torquay United in the National League in England, he decided to give it one more shot.
“After I left Finn Harps in late October 2016, and spent Christmas at home with my family, I was sitting around and didn’t know what to do,” the 22 year-old former Westport United star told The Mayo News.
“I was hopping around in Ireland, here, there and everywhere and never really settled, but I knew I always wanted to play in England.
“I had thoughts of packing it in at times, finding different aspects of life and trying different avenues, but I sat down with Mum and Dad and said I was open to giving it one more shot and that I would do whatever it takes.
“I rang my agent, and from there he got me the move [to Torquay]. He said there was a club interested in me and over I went.”
On February 7, 2017, the 22-year-old signed for the Conference side in the seaside resort town on the English Channel in Devon on ‘non-contract’ terms until the end of the season.
With Torquay in the midst of a relegation battle when he arrived, opportunities to impress would be scarce and difficult.
The day before his fifth game, a tricky away trip to Southport, Keating was struck down with food poisoning and could not travel with the team to Liverpool.
The following morning, he made the decision to make the six-hour journey in the back of a car with the team physio and doctor, and his hunger to impress paid off.
“I had food poisoning the night before and I was very, very ill,” he said. “I couldn’t travel with the squad… and the day of the game I said ‘look, I’m going to come up, I’ll fight through it and do whatever it takes’.
“I met the boys at the hotel, couldn’t eat anything, couldn’t sit straight… and I remember the gaffer turning to me with about 20 minutes to go and he said ‘how are ya’? It was the worst I ever felt but I just said ‘yeah, get me on’.
“It was 1-1 at the time, we needed a win massively, and I went on and scored the winning goal in the last minute.
“It was unbelievable, such an unbelievable feeling. It was my first goal in English football so it was pretty special.”
THAT victory was only Torquay United’s second in 11 matches, but it lifted them out of the relegation zone.
Furthermore, to avoid going down, they needed nine points from their final five games.
And they achieved just that, with Keating netting on two more occasions – against Aldershot and Lincoln – helping Torquay to retain their National League status for the season ahead.
It marked an incredible few months for the young striker, and the reward for his hard work, dedication and bravery, was a two-year contract.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came over,” he said. “ I arrived with a back-pack and a pair of boots. It was last chance saloon, but I said I would give it everything and look now, it’s funny how football changes things.
“I went home that Summer and I got a phone call the next week about signing a two-year deal. I came straight back over here with the hope of doing well, progressing and moving on, because there is four leagues ahead of me. My aim is to go as high as possible, play at the highest level, and maybe, one day, play for Ireland.”
The past 12 months have seen a remarkable change in fortunes for the flamboyant youngster.
Similar to last year, Christmas was spent surrounded by family but this time they also made the trip over to Torquay for support during a busy Christmas schedule.
“It’s the first time ever I will be away from home for Christmas,” he said.
“I have a game on the 26th, 30th and New Year’s Day, so the Christmas period will be hectic.
“I’m training Christmas Eve and maybe even Christmas Day, so it’s a difficult change but one I’m looking forward to.
“My family are coming over for a couple of weeks and for New Years so I’m looking forward to that.”
Keating has settled in quickly, and built a strong bond with the ‘The Gulls’ faithful.
“He’s one of our own,” the supporters sing on match days. “I’m not too sure about that!” he laughed. “But it shows how much I have settled in.
Even still, home is where the heart is, and Westport remains just that.
“I do miss home,” he admitted. “I’m a massive homebird. I love my family and I miss my friends.
“I’ve been brought up in Westport, although I was born in Dublin, but I definitely love where I’m from and Westport is where I was raised. I’m a Westport man.
“It’s a great little town and I do miss it at times. But look, football is my life and I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity here. It’s something I always wanted to do and I have to keep getting out there and showing that.”