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MERV Keane's footballing career that will be honoured with AFL life membership later this month was born from the humble beginnings of not getting a kick the first time he took to the field.
That was as a 10-year-old helping out the Narraport under-16s in a North Central league game in 1963.
"Numbers were a bit short back then and my first team was the Narraport under-16s as a 10-year-old," Keane recalled this week.
"We couldn't afford football boots in those days, so I just had a normal everyday school boot, polished them up and put some white laces on and it looked every bit like a pair of footy boots.
"I remember in that first game taking one mark and having one handpass.
"I was camped under the ball in the forward pocket and managed to hang onto a chest mark and then the captain raced past calling for a handpass, so I had to give it off to him.
"We were playing St Arnaud, who had some very big boys in their team coming from a much bigger town.
"So that was my introduction to football… one mark and one handpass."
The 1963 season was the last before the Wycheproof and Narraport clubs merged to form Wycheproof-Narraport in 1964.
"That merger was vigorously opposed by many at the time… there were a lot saying 'over my dead body' will this happen," Keane said.
So that was my introduction to football… one mark and one handpass.
"But the merger took place, they won a premiership in their first year and a lot of that bitterness was forgotten."
A second premiership the following year in 1965 - and another in 1967 - further helped to alleviate any ill-feeling from the merger that put a pause on the young Keane's footballing path.
"With the extra numbers in the under-16s following the merger, I didn't get a game again until I was about 15, which was the right thing to do," Keane said.
Upon his return to the Demons' under-16s as a 15-year-old, Keane played two seasons with the team - winning a pair of back-to-back best and fairests - before making the step-up to the senior side in 1970.
The Demons were coached by Clive Gordon in 1970 and it would seem that those who watched the talented 17-year-old in action had a far greater opinion of his debut senior season than what Keane himself did.
"I don't know how, but I was lucky enough to win the best and fairest that year in 1970," Keane said.
"I was playing a combination of centre and half-forward; I was fairly skinny in those days and remember being fairly overawed by the size and ferocity of some of these characters in the North Central league.
"Most weeks I was just thankful I survived; I seriously never felt like I was on top of my game that year, but others must have seen it a bit differently."
Among those keeping a close watch on Keane in the 1970 season was the Richmond recruiting staff.
The North Central league was part of Richmond's recruiting zone of the time and the Tigers had regularly sent letters to Keane throughout 1970 letting him know they were keen observers.
"At the end of the season Richmond's Allan Schwab and Ronny Carson, who was the treasurer, drove up to Wycheproof and we met on the main street after Mass," Keane said.
"They met mum and dad and the family and we signed up with Richmond then and there on the spot.
"I signed for a Richmond towel and badge and in return my parents brought two membership tickets, so I think Richmond got the better part of the deal."
1970 was the only senior season Keane played at Wycheproof-Narraport. For all that he has achieved in football, the fact the Demons didn't play finals that year is still a source of frustration almost 50 years on.
I signed for a Richmond towel and badge and in return my parents brought two membership tickets- Merv Keane - three-time Richmond premiership player
"Wycheproof-Narraport won regular flags through that era, but that was a year where we didn't even make the top four, so I've got to say it's a blight on my career not to have represented Wyche in finals," Keane said.
However, while team success eluded Keane at Wycheproof-Narraport, he achieved it at Richmond.
Firstly in his debut season at Punt Road in 1971 when, after starting in the under-19s, Keane forged his way into the Tigers' team that won the reserves flag.
"It took me a little while to find my feet when I went to Richmond, but that started to happen about halfway through my first year," Keane said.
"I had spent the first six months of my time at Richmond waiting for Allan Schwab or the coach to come up and tap me on the shoulder and say, 'listen son, we don't think you're good enough, you better head back to Wycheproof'.
"But there was a turning point halfway through that first season when I got put to a half-back flank and I fitted in really well there straight away and that's when things started to happen."
The senior coach at Richmond at the time of Keane's arrival was Tom Hafey.
"My first impression of Tom was this is definitely serious business… he had it planted into me very early that we're in this to win games of footy and there was certainly no fanfare in his approach," Keane said.
Keane played four senior games in his second season at the Tigers in 1972 - debuting in an eight-point win over Fitzroy at the Junction Oval in round nine - before establishing himself in 1973.
My first impression of Tom was this is definitely serious business… he had it planted into me very early that we're in this to win games of footy and there was certainly no fanfare in his approach
And it was a timely season to make his mark given the Tigers won the 1973 premiership, defeating Carlton by 30 points at the MCG.
"I had played really well in the preliminary final (v Collingwood when Richmond came from six goals down at half-time) the previous week and then had the assignment of playing on the great Alex Jesaulenko in the grand final," Keane said.
"Tommy Hafey had the confidence to put me on those sort of characters. I was half-back and Jezza was half-forward and my number one thought that day was to minimise his damage, which I did the best I could."
Keane held Jesaulenko goal-less in the Tigers' 16.20 (116) to 12.14 (86) victory - the first of three Richmond premierships he was part of.
Keane also played in the Tigers' 1974 grand final triumph the following season against North Melbourne, and later kicked two goals and had 27 disposals when Richmond thumped Collingwood by 81 points in the 1980 grand final.
The three grand final wins were among 238 senior games Keane played for the Tigers - the last of which was in round 22 of 1984.
"I was really fortunate to have been part of a couple of great eras at Richmond," said Keane, who is on the half-back flank in Richmond's Team of the Century and in the Tigers' Hall of Fame.
"There was the era through to the mid-70s and then another bunch of emerging stars came through again and that led into 1980.
"I was 31 when I finished up at Richmond and I was cooked; I didn't have another game in me, so I put my hand up and am probably one of the lucky ones who was able to determine their retirement.
"I was then able to get the coaching role at Sturt in South Australia, which was also a massive influence on my life."
Richmond historian Tony Greenberg describes Keane as "a strong mark, good kick, ice cool under pressure, brave, fiercely determined and the consummate team man.
"He carved out an extremely impressive reputation as a close-checking, ever-reliable defender with a great capacity for curbing the brilliance of the most dangerous of opposition forwards," Greenberg wrote on the Richmond website earlier this year.
Post his Richmond playing career, Keane up until this year has been involved in football non-stop, beginning with the Sturt coaching role for four years from 1985.
His football CV also includes Essendon reserves coach from 1989-91; Western Jets coach in the TAC Cup from 1992-94 and 2001-02; Calder Cannons coach in 1995; and Williamstown coach in the VFA in 1996.
And he last year finished up at Essendon after 11 years as the Bombers' senior recruiting co-ordinator.
However, his looming AFL life membership follows what has been a tragic period for Keane, who in the space of 25 days in 2017 endured the death of both his daughter, Emily, and wife, Kaye.
Richmond wore black arm bands in its drought-breaking 2017 premiership win over Adelaide after Kaye had died on the Wednesday of grand final week.
Kaye's death came only a matter of weeks after Emily, a gynaecologist, died earlier in September, which has prompted Keane to become involved in a project working with young doctors.
"I'm spending time helping with the welfare and wellbeing of junior doctors at the Royal Women's Hospital and other hospitals around Melbourne," Keane said.
"My daughter was 36 when she died and was a brilliant obstetrician and gynecologist, who unfortunately suffered deeply for the last four or five years of her life.
"She unfortunately became an alcoholic and suffered depression and just couldn't get herself right… part of the stresses of working as a gynaecologist, unfortunately, brought about the demise in her life."
As well as Keane's work assisting junior doctors with their heath and wellbeing, the 65-year-old has also been kept busy writing his first book based on the life of Scott Field - a player he coached while at Sturt.
"Scott was a young player I coached who was a really keen adventurer and great humanitarian who worked for the United Nations," Keane said.
"He was a mountain climber and just over four years ago aged 45 was climbing Mont Blanc in the French Alps when he fell and died.
"His is an incredible story of someone who achieved so much in his life, so I'm putting together a book that is telling his story and it will be coming out this year."
Keane will receive his AFL life membership on Thursday, March 14.
"I'm very honoured and as far as I'm concerned this is for all the people who have contributed to my success, if you want to call it that," Keane said.
"It's for the people from my home town of Wycheproof, those who have helped me, mentored me, given me advice, watched me, team-mates, family, colleagues… the list could go on."
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