Derry City and Portadown star Kevin 'Crack' McKeever was the 'ultimate team player'

FORMER Derry City manager Tony ‘Doc’ O’Doherty described the late Kevin McKeever as ‘the ultimate team man’ who gave his all for the shirt of his beloved hometown football club without getting the recognition he deserved.

By Simon Collins
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 7:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 7:30 pm
The late Kevin 'Crack' McKeever in action for Derry City. Photograph by Hugh Gallagher.
The late Kevin 'Crack' McKeever in action for Derry City. Photograph by Hugh Gallagher.

The quiet, unassuming ‘gentleman’ of the local game died suddenly at his home on Monday, aged 56, and will be laid to rest on Friday morning following a funeral mass at Holy Family Parish Church in Ballymagroarty.

Affectionately known as ‘Crack’, the popular former Derry City, Portadown and Finn Harps midfielder was described by O’Doherty as a down-to-earth, modest individual with an endearing attitude to life.

O’Doherty, who made McKeever his first signing when he took over as manager at Derry City in 1993, recalled how the ex-Tristar youth was never one to seek the limelight as his footballing exploits went largely under the radar and yet O’Doherty regarded him as the ‘building block’ of his team.

“He was undervalued as a player,” said the former Derry boss and skipper. “His nickname could’ve been ‘under the radar’ instead of ‘Crack’,” he quipped. “He was never one to boast or talk about his exploits. Was always looking to play down his personal role in success and was the ultimate team man.”

And McKeever had plenty to brag about having made his Derry City debut in the club’s historic first league game in League of Ireland football - the 1-1 draw against EMFA at Buckley Park in October 1985. He went on to make 92 appearances for City, winning the League Cup and agonisingly losing the FAI Cup Final to Sligo Rovers during the ‘93/94 season and was also involved in the ‘97 title winning team. McKeever was also hugely respected by supporters of Portadown Football Club as he was part of Ronnie McFall’s famous Ports team which won Irish League titles in the ‘89/90 and ‘90/91 seasons.

“Kevin was my first signing as manager when I took over from Roy Coyle. I got him from Portadown,” recalled O’Doherty. “He was a big, quiet gentleman. He was totally genuine, as a person and a footballer. He played very much for the shirt when he played for Derry. I remember him telling me how over the moon he was at signing for his hometown club, he loved it so much. That season-and-a-half we had together was tremendous. I always found him a complete professional on the pitch.

“He was a manager’s dream but other players who played with him understood his value whereas sometimes fans and others didn’t always see what he did for the team. ’Crack’ was one of those players who were the building block of the team, that sort every team in the world needs, should you be playing local football or for Man United or Liverpool. Every team needs those players that hold the team together like glue and that’s what he was.”

Kevin McKeever, third from left on back row, pictured in a star-studded Derry City side at Brandywell Stadium.

“'Crack’ was prepared to put in the hard yards without looking for personal recognition. Everything he did was for the team. He was a modest human being,” he continued. “He wasn’t looking to be the star. No matter how much he did it was for the team. If people told him after a match, whether it was his fellow players or manager, that they appreciated the work he put in for the team, then that’s all he wanted. He didn’t want or need anything else.

“Some players have a nearly forgotten history and ‘Crack’ is one of those. He was a total team player and an absolute gentleman.”

That 93/94 season at Brandywell is remembered fondly by O’Doherty for the camaraderie in the Derry dressing room, a team spirit epitomised by McKeever.

“The cup final was obviously a disappointment but when you look at where we came from. When I took over we were bottom of the league but we won the league cup, finished in the top six in the league and really should have won the cup.

“Outside of that, that team had tremendous camaraderie. The team spirit, and ‘Crack’ epitomised that, it was incredible. He was such a modest guy. He was the sort of guy, when you were socialising, would say, ‘I can’t believe I’m playing with Liam Coyle’. That’s the type of stuff he would say to me. He would say, ‘Doc, look at the boys I’m playing with. I don’t know if I should be here.’ I would tell him he’s there on merit. That modesty carried itself onto the pitch. When ‘Crack’ came off he wanted to know if he had done enough for the team. That’s how he valued himself.”

Derry City legend, Liam Coyle regards himself as not just a former teammate but a good friend of McKeever and he was saddened by the news of his untimely passing. Commenting on BBC Radio Foyle this week, Coyle said he always looked up to McKeever during his early playing days.

“I’m absolutely devastated for his family and everyone close to him,” he said. “He was a few years older than me but I always looked up to him. I only realised when I played with him later in my career how good a player he was. You look at his record, he won two league titles with Portadown, and won the League Cup with us. He was involved in the championship team in ‘97. He was a very underrated footballer and I think only his teammates really appreciated how good a player he really was.”

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Tributes paid to late Derry City player Kevin 'Crack' McKeever