It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but in the absence of any actual news, it’s time to look back at a previous player.
I’ve looked back at players who have been on Blackburn’s books who have also been with City; there aren’t too many; Jamie Clarke, jailed last year, is one, with Ian Pearce and Gary Croft two more. More recently, Remy Longdon was on Blackburn’s books before moving here, but instead, I’ve gone to a less celebrated era. I’ve chosen Josh O’Keefe, a player who I’m interested to hear your thoughts on.
O’Keefe began his career with Blackburn, but didn’t make the grade there but did appear for the Republic of Ireland Under 21s. Once it was evident his Blackburn chance was not going to come he moved to Walsall, where he made 13 League One appearances, eight as starts. In 2009/10. He was released by the Saddlers in the summer and became Chris Sutton’s first summer signing on May 17th 2010. On paper, as many signings do, he looked great, standing 6ft 3in tall and having been a regular in the then-Premier League side’s reserve team.
For me, O’Keefe is a player who will be defined more by the squad he was a member of than anything else. He played 40 games in 2010/11 as we were relegated from the Football League, and despite showing promise and netting a few goals he will always be remembered as a part of the worst Imps squad in living memory. He was one of the few players to keep his place when Steve Tilson. There was no doubting he had some ability, was he a victim of the time, or just playing above his station?
His first goal for the club came as we lost 2-1 at Northampton, but he hit another in the 2-1 win at Cheltenham that turned out to be the winner. On Feb 15th 2011, at a time when it appeared we’d stay up, he got our first against Aldershot with us 2-0 down; we drew 2-2. He also bagged as we beat Oxford United 3-1 at the Bank in March 2011, another game that convinced many we’d stay up. He missed the final few games of the season after picking up an injury against Bury.
I thought he often looked ungainly on the ball, something of a Bambi-on-Ice figure, and despite his experience, he couldn’t force his way into our National League squad on a permanent basis after relegation. He was a late sub on the opening day as we drew 2-2 at Southport, but didn’t start again under Tilson, making his final appearance for the despised manager as we won 2-0 at Bath. A week later, with O’Keefe not even on the bench, we lost 4-0 at Tamworth and Tilson was sent packing. O’Keefe played a couple of games, notably starting and scoring in our 3-1 defeat against Fleetwood. He started just twice under David Holdsworth, in our 201 win against Barrow and a 2-0 defeat at Wrexham, before leaving by mutual consent on Boxing Day of 2011. At the time Imps fanzine (written by me), Deranged Ferret regarded it as a ‘late Christmas present’, as O’Keefe had seemingly come to represent everything that had been wrong with the club. Looking back, that does feel a little harsh; he started three games for the team in the National League, scored once and we’d won another of those games. Perhaps, just perhaps, he was judged harshly by me at the time, given how little game time he had under two managers destined to fail.
He joined Southport for the remainder of the season, but appeared just seven times and it seemed he was heading for oblivion. However, a move to Kidderminster ignited his ability: he scored 15 times in 50 outings in the National League, although never against Lincoln. Latterly featured for Kidderminster Harriers, but he always seemed to struggle to reach the heights of that Hereford stint. He’s been on loan with Telford United and Chester, and appeared for Altrincham before finishing his career with Chorley Town.
Once his playing career finished, he moved into physiotherapy and is currently the first team and Under 23 physio at Fleetwood Town.