Limerick man Edward O'Keeffe, right, in action for Italian rugby side Viadana
LIMERICK rugby player Edward O'Keeffe has swapped life in North Otago on New Zealand's South Island this summer for the glamour of playing with Viadana in Italy's Lombardy region.
Twenty two-year-old O'Keeffe, from Ballynanty, had spent two seasons in the Connacht Academy before his recent moves to New Zealand and now Italy.
The exciting O'Keeffe, who played in a Munster Schools Senior Cup final with St Munchin's College in 2013, earned his move to Connacht on the back of a string of eye-catching displays for Young Munster in Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League.
Having played U-18’s, U-19’s and U-20’s with Munster, O’Keeffe was also capped for the Ireland Club XV side.
Edward O'Keeffe said: “After school I wasn't offered any sub-academy contract or anything like that with a province. I joined Young Munster and played AIL for the first time.
“Luckily enough Mossie Lawlor (Academy coach at Connacht Rugby) rang me and asked me to come up to Connacht or a trial.
"I was offered a place in the Connacht Academy out of that trial.
“I spent two years with Connacht. My time with them finished up at the end of last season. A number of players were told there was just nothing there for us this season.
“It was myself in my own hands. I made up a video and sent it to as many people as I knew. There was an agent who rang me up and said North Otago were looking for players at the time.
"I said I would go down for a few months and if anything popped up at home I could go back. I got off the plane in New Zealand on a Friday night, drove three and a half hours to Oamaru, the largest town in North Otago and I was up at 9am next day bagging coal for a fundraiser for the rugby club. It was straight into it. I really enjoyed it.
"I was herding 3,000 sheep a day on New Zealand's South Island. That was a big change from growing up in Ballynanty! I spent two and a bit months in New Zealand, coming back home in August.
“I came home with the intention of playing club rugby with Young Munster, so I was training with them for a week and a half. I got a call asking if I would be interested in coming to Italy. I jumped at the chance.
"The club I came to, Rugby Viadana, played in the European Challenge Cup 2013-2014. The competition the club competes in domestically in the National Championship of Excellence. There are 10 teams in the league.
“Teams can qualify for the European Challenge Cup through it.
"It is just for a season with the option of staying on. My intentions are to play PRO14 rugby. I am grateful for this opportunity. I am an ambitious guy and want to take a step up again.
“Hopefully I will have a good year here and then get back into the pro systems with a PRO 14 club whether that be with someone back home or Zebre or Treviso.
“As long as I am on the field, I don't really mind where I play. From what I have seen so far it is probably at B&I Cup level if not a bit tougher.
"Contracts have so hard to come by in professional rugby. You can't be over fussy at the end of the day. When the option of the contract came up, I felt I had nothing to lose. Last Saturday we were at home to Mogliano which we won 28-26.
”I played at 15 again and found it easier as I'm getting familiar with the calls and team patterns! The standard is really good very physical and the intensity is a step up from AIL! The League starts this Saturday and it will be another step up, but I'm looking forward to it.”