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Ex-cricketer Keath's a keeper

Alex Keath Interview April 29 We speak to ex-cricketer Alex Keath after playing his first SANFL game for the Crows.
I don’t think that I really every contemplated returning to footy until it became clear that I’d given everything to cricket,
Alex Keath

When Crows rookie Alex Keath gave up football back in 2010, he thought it would be for good.

Instead, only weeks after finishing another cricket season, Keath made an impressive debut for Adelaide’s SANFL side.

A talented sportsman, Keath made representative sides in both football and cricket as a teenager.

The key-position prospect played for Victoria Country at the Under-16 and Under-18 AFL National Championships, and was part of the 2008 AIS-AFL Academy squad, along with future No.1 draft pick David Swallow, West Coast forward Jack Darling and new Adelaide teammate Curtly Hampton.

At the same time, Keath captained the Victorian Under-17s cricket team and was selected to represent his country at the Under-19s World Cup.

The Shepparton junior rose through the football ranks at the time when the Gold Coast Suns were preparing to enter the AFL. As part of their list concessions, the Suns were granted exclusive access to 12 players born in the first four months of 1992, including the January-born Keath.

In 2009, the Suns took a chance and signed Keath as their final eligible 17-year-old, knowing full well the promising all-rounder might never kick a Sherrin with the rest of their inaugural squad. A short time later, Keath hung up the boots and accepted a three-year contract with Cricket Victoria.

“I get asked if it was a difficult decision (to choose cricket over football), but I was pretty lucky to have the opportunity to receive a professional cricket position at the Victorian Bushrangers,” Keath said.

“I was rapt once I got that chance. From there, I wanted to try and give it my all.”

And he did.

Keath made his first-class cricket debut against the touring England team in December 2010.

Over the next five years, he fought to secure a regular spot in the Victorian team, playing a total of seven first-class matches. He played a handful of Twenty20 games for the Melbourne Stars in the popular Big Bash League and spent several Australian winters playing cricket in England.  

After returning from the UK last year, Keath signed for South Australian Grade Cricket club Prospect. It was around this time the Crows presented him with a unique offer to join the Club as a rookie, while spending one last summer trying to earn another state cricket contract.

Because Keath hadn’t been registered with a football club for the previous three years, he was able to sign with Adelaide as a ‘Category-B’ rookie without going through the regular draft process.

Despite a strong summer with the bat, which saw him earn a spot on the Adelaide Strikers T20 roster, the 24-year-old decided he was ready to make football his sole focus for the first time.

“I don’t think that I really every contemplated returning to footy until it became clear that I’d given everything to cricket, and that it might be an option that I could come back,” he said.

“The recruiting staff at Adelaide presented me with this opportunity, so I was really lucky to get that.

“I’ve had some fantastic life experiences … some of the highlights have been the travel I’ve been able to do. I would’ve loved to have played (cricket at a) higher (level) but it wasn’t to be … now I’m ready to give footy my all.

“I’m really glad that I’ve given it a go and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

Strikers commitments prevented Keath from training with the Crows much over the summer.

Still, he went into the Club whenever he could and was given a footy to maintain his touch while he was away. On a couple of occasions, he turned up at West Lakes the day after making a hundred much to the bemusement of his teammates.

Since committing to Adelaide full-time, Keath has been doing extra skills and conditioning work in a bid to make up for lost time. He had to complete a six-week ‘mini pre-season’ before he was considered for SANFL selection.

The 197cm, 91kg, utility has also leaned on his new teammates, including a familiar face, for advice.

“It’s been a pretty steep learning curve,” he said.

“All facets of the game are pretty challenging, to be honest. I’ve got a lot to learn.

“Fortunately, there is something terrific leadership at the Crows. Guys even without (leadership) titles … are pretty strong in the way they go about their own games and it’s good to learn from them.

“I actually played (junior football) with Kyle Hartigan ... and he’s been a pretty good mentor for me.”

On Sunday, Keath made his SANFL league debut in Adelaide’s win over Glenelg.

It was his first game of football since breaking his collarbone playing for his school in Year 12.

“I was running a few laps while the boys were playing games during the first few rounds of the season, so I was really excited to get out and play and pull on the jumper for the first time,” he said.

“It was a real highlight to sing the song after the game with Paul Hunter, who was playing his first game as well. We’re roommates as well, so that was pretty special … except for the Gatorade that was thrown all over us!”

Keath, who played largely as a forward for the Murray Bushrangers, lined up in defence on Sunday.

The left-footer made an impressive transition, collecting 15 possessions, six marks and generating a team-high six rebound 50ms.

He even showed some speed and flair with a couple of nice running bounces.

Keath said his first game in six years wasn’t nearly as easy as he made it look.

“The first quarter on the weekend, I was running around like a headless chook and probably didn’t do my teammates too many favours,” he said.

“Then I sort of settled into the game and tried to concentrate on playing my role and it became a little bit easier.

“I was reasonably happy with how I played and I’ll look to improve and build on that. I made some mistakes, but I’m pretty prepared that I’m going to stuff up a few things.

“I’m just hoping I’ll be able to learn pretty quickly.”

Keath hopes to develop into a reliable contributor in Adelaide’s tight-knit defensive group.

“I like playing in defence, but I’m happy to play wherever I fit in for the team,” he said.

“Defence comes with its own challenges. You’re under a fair bit of pressure to keep your opponent quiet. I enjoy having that simple task and working in a group as we try to do here at the Crows.”

One SANFL game has reminded Keath of the physical demands of football.

He sees similarities between footy and cricket at the elite level, but says hobbling around for two days after a match isn’t one of them.

“I’m pretty sore after playing my first game, so it’s probably getting used to all the knocks and bumps that you don’t get over 90 overs in the field playing cricket!”

Keath wasn’t the only feel good story at the Bay on the weekend.

Fellow Category-B rookie and former basketballer Hugh Greenwood also played the most memorable game of his short career. In a pleasing sign, both Greenwood and Keath were named in the Club’s best players.

Keath said Greenwood, who also joined the Crows late last year after a long time away from the game, had been a good sounding board.

“I hope it was just because of the rotations, but Hugh and I were both on the bench in the first quarter on Sunday,” Keath said.

“I said to him, ‘Gee, it goes for a bit longer than you think’ and he said he’d found the same thing. We both came off extended periods of training where the drills were quite short and sharp and then you get into a game … and you settle into a longer sort of rhythm.

“Hugh has been great. He’s a really professional trainer and he works really hard on his game.”