The world of hockey has paid tribute to Craig Keegan, the former assistant coach of GB women’s Olympic gold medal team, who died on Wednesday. He was 54.
Keegan, a Tasmanian, first came to the UK in his mid-twenties and had lived in Derbyshire since 2000. He joined the GB and England women’s programme in 2013 and was a pivotal force in their attacking goal threats as England won European gold in 2015 and GB beat the Netherlands to land Olympic gold for the first time in 2016.
Keegan had battled Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma for 18 months. He married his partner, Sally, in early February, and leaves one daughter, Olivia, from a previous marriage.
“You were loved by so many people, husband, father, coach, friend, inspiration, Craig, you were quite simply, a legend and you will live on through all the people who’s lives you have touched in so many ways,” Sally wrote on Instagram.
Born in South Burnie, north western Tasmania – where hockey ‘was played hard or harder’ – Keegan never won a cap for the Kookaburras but was cited as one of the best attackers in his mid 20s following stints playing for Bedford and Beeston in the UK.
“In another time he would have played for Australia,” said Todd Williams, a friend and former team-mate. “He was a very good player for Tasmania, one of their best, but he was never pushed into anything higher.
“He came to the UK and that’s why I am in awe of him, as he went back in the late nineties and was the top scorer in the AHL two seasons running.
“He was great 1 v 1 but not a great goalscorer. When he returned from England, he trapped everything thrown at him, he could flick corners, pass and came back the complete package.
“There was an incredible elevation in his game to being one of the best in the country while there was also the transformation in his character.”
England Hockey initially appointed Keegan in 2008 as head coach of the National Performance Centre in Loughborough. Having coached both the men’s and women’s national age group squads as an assistant and head coach, Keegan then led the under-21 women’s side to bronze at the 2012 European Championships.
He was appointed GB and England assistant women’s coach to the senior side in 2013. He was also tipped to become head coach after England’s poor 2014 World Cup before working alongside Danny Kerry over a glittering two-year spell.
The Australian left the GB set up with fellow assistant coach Karen Brown in 2017. In recent years he coached Belper women while he was also deputy director of sport at Derby University.
“Utterly devastated and struggling with the news that we’ve lost Coach Keegs,” said Kate Richardson-Walsh, captain of the GB women’s team in Rio. “My thoughts are with his loved ones and all whose life he enriched. Thanks coach for all that you gave us and all that you were.”
“The best at what he did, the finest of humans and one we will miss so dearly,” Alex Danson-Bennett wrote on social media.
“Craig, or Keegs, was also a fantastic coach and our goal-scoring guru,” Danson-Bennett had also revealed in a Hockey Paper column in 2017. “He showed us how to be really tenacious as a striker – it’s a behaviour as well as a skill – and I think he showed us how to be more exciting to watch, and more exciting for the players.
“Let’s face it, everybody loves to score a goal so he got to look after the most enjoyable side of the game. He even managed to change our language – from goal shooting, to goal scoring and that helped change our way of thinking, giving us a more attacking mindset. Training with him was always fun.”
On the pitch, he was a teak tough forward, just as he was in his final weeks despite his terminal relapse in January.
“I saw myself as someone who was a player and coach. Winning was the outcome; I led by example and through the quality of play,” Keegan once told The Hockey Paper in an interview. “However in my desire to be successful I did cross the line on occasion and spent a bit of time in the sin bin in my career. But I played on the edge of intensity!”
Williams added: “He was committed, hard as nails and he would rub you up the wrong way but equally do something quite the opposite.
“He was a loyal friend. He would push you and push you and it was always for your benefit.”
Iain Randall, a close friend and Trent’s head of hockey, said: “Craig’s passion and enthusiasm for the game will have a lasting impact on those lucky enough to have shared a pitch with him.”
Meanwhile, England Hockey said in a statement: “Craig worked in various coaching roles for England and Great Britain for over 10 years. His contribution to the sport domestically was extensive, with many club and school connections including Bedford, Beeston, Belper, Trent College and most recently at the University of Derby. Our deepest sympathies go to Craig’s family.”