BC Soccer Hall of Famer Paul Keegan: Learning Beautiful Soccer Made Him Ireland’s First MLS Player

KeeganHeadandShouldersEarly in his freshman year at Boston College, Paul Keegan scored two goals in the first half of a soccer game at Northeastern. Coach Ed Kelly was not at all pleased.

“He was shouting at me from the sidelines, and in the locker room he was telling me that I should have passed rather than scored,” said Paul.

“I’m a striker, and strikers are greedier than other players. But Ed wanted the beautiful game. That’s how he taught me. I had to look around and not be selfish. He instilled that in me, and that’s what prepared me for MLS.”

Paul was the first Irishman to play Major League Soccer in the United States. He was the Number One pick of the New England Revolution the first MLS college draft in 1996, and he stayed with the Revs for five seasons. But his path to the big time began with Kelly’s exacting tutelage.

“When I came to Boston College I was raw. I could score goals. But I didn’t have that vision yet. Ed was a great mentor and coach,” said Paul.

The oldest of five children, Paul grew up in Dublin. His father Peter was a big fan of the Liverpool club and took his sons to England for games. Times were different back then. Irish kids who played soccer, which was considered an English game, weren’t allowed to play other school sports. Paul’s Crumlin United team won the Dublin League and Youth Cup in 1991, and Paul was Player of the Year in the Under-18 category.

Paul’s scoring touch brought him to St. Patrick’s Athletic and got him into a development course under the League of Ireland, that country’s version of Major League Soccer. It amounted to an unpaid apprenticeship for aspiring pro soccer players. Paul got hurt along the way, breaking an ankle and three toes. That turned out to be a blessing. He started to consider other options, like getting a good education.

“I got to thinking, what if this happens when you’re playing professional football. You just get laid off. You have no job, no career,” he said.

When a team from Elizabethtown, New Jersey came over for a game, Paul was duly impressed – especially by the quality of their uniforms and equipment. He decided then that he’d be interested in coming to college in America, and told his coach. The coach knew Ed Kelly and made a phone call. A year later, Paul Keegan was a Boston College freshman.

“It was hard. I was the first in my family to go away. Not just away, but thousands of miles. My dad was pushing me, telling me that America was the land of dreams,” he said.

Paul’s younger brother Wayne followed him across The Pond and ended up playing for Southern Connecticut State’s Division Two NCAA champion team. Though Paul had a lot to learn about the fine points of the game, he had an immediate impact at BC. In 1992 he was Big East Rookie of the Year and a regional All-American for the 10-8 squad.

Kelly appointed Paul captain of the team when Paul was a sophomore. Kelly brushed aside Paul’s objections about being too young and told him just to lead by example. As Paul put it, “He instilled that fighting spirit in me.”

He was captain or co-captain for three seasons and, as teammate Mike Calise stated, “Paul’s impact on the field was trumped only by his impact in the locker room and on his teammates. Paul represents the best of Boston College, our soccer family, and what it means to be an Eagle.”

Sophomore season of 1993 was rewarding, in a way, but also one of the most frustrating. The team went 12-5-1, despite having no home field for games. Shea Field was rendered unplayable for games by the football tailgaters, Paul recalls. The team did practice on Shea and “picked up a lot of chicken bones,” he says. Worse yet was the politics. The committee that selected teams for the NCAA Tournament snubbed BC.

During Paul’s four seasons the Eagles compiled a record of 42-25-6. He was a regional All-America pick all four years, national All-American twice, and three times was picked for the All-Big East first team. he was chosen Eagle of the Year for 1995-96. He holds the all-time point scoring record with 31 goals and 21 assist for 83 points in 69 games. He is second all-time in goals and third all-time in assists.

Paul’s favorite college memory came right at the end of his undergraduate days. Two years before receiving his diploma, he started for the Revolution in Foxboro and scored his first MLS goal against New York. His four brothers, his sister, and his father had all come over from Ireland to see that game and to be at graduation. His mother, tragically, had died from injuries suffered when she was stuck by an automobile a few years before.

Paul picked up a master’s degree in education while playing professionally. He also spent a tremendous amount of time as the Revolution’s ambassador to the communities in and around Boston. If there was an event involving pro athletes, he’d be there – soccer camps, charitable fund raisers, kids’ birthday parties, he’d be there. He was named Boston’s Sportsman of the Year in his last MLS season.

He returned to Ireland after that, resuming his soccer career and helping to care for his father for a year before he passed away. Paul played for a variety of teams over the next decade-plus before retiring. For the past six years he has combined his athletic background and his love of community service in working for Sports Scotland.

“It’s an active skills program, a massive program, and not just for one sport,” he explains. “It lets me reach kids, a grass-roots way to get them involved in clubs and out into their community. It’s a really enjoyable job, seeing people changing and creating new opportunities for themselves.”

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