Lachlan Keeffe really is like the proverbial red wine. He’s getting better with age, according to GIANTS football boss Jason McCartney.

Four weeks short of his 32nd birthday and in the veteran category on the GIANTS list, he will add a career ‘first’ to his football CV in Saturday’s season-opener against the Sydney Swans at Accor Stadium.

In his 14th season in the AFL system, Keeffe will play just the fourth round one game of his career and, for the first time, will play consecutive round one games.

He will complete what McCartney labelled a ‘faultless’ rehabilitation following a knee reconstruction required after a heart-breaking and surprise mishap in the closing seconds of round eight last year.

Keeffe walked off GIANTS Stadium content with his football after the GIANTS had posted a heart-stopping two-point win over Essendon. And rightly so.

Having signed a contract extension a week earlier that would see him at the club until at least the end of 2022, the 204cm Queenslander had played a key defensive role as the rejuvenated GIANTS squared the 2021 win/loss account at 4-4 after a poor 0-3 start.

He’d played 21 games in a row – easily the longest streak of consecutive games of his 79-game career – and moreover had become an automatic selection for coach Leon Cameron highly regarded as a senior figure at the AFL’s youngest club.

But in the following 24 hours things went horribly wrong. Sent for scans by the GIANTS medical staff Keeffe was shocked and devastated to learn that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. It was season over.

The injury had happened 80 seconds from the final siren. Playing on the Bombers’ Cale Hooker, Keeffe had made a critical spoil in a marking contest on the lead 80 seconds from full-time before teammate Jacob Hopper kicked what turned out to be the clincher.

Hooker, coming off five goals against Carlton in Round 7, had averaged 11 possessions and three goals a game through the first seven rounds and was the third-highest goal-kicker in the competition.

Keeffe had kept him to seven possessions and one goal, continuing an excellent start to a season in which he had assumed the mantle of the GIANTS’ No.1 lock-down tall defender.

One of the great football stories and one of the competition’s genuinely nice guys, Keeffe explained at the time that he had not thought anything of his knee as he exchanged the customary post-game handshakes before the post-game recovery.

His reconstructive surgery in Melbourne was the second of his career. He blew out the same knee after playing the first nine games of 2012 at Collingwood.

Keeffe chats to former Collingwood teammate Travis Varcoe in 2018.

To outsiders Keeffe’s inclusion for round one might be something of a surprise given his injury was not even 11 months ago. But when McCartney was asked if the man who wears jumper 25 was even in the selection mix he replied: “He’s playing. He’s done everything right and he’s ready to go.”

McCartney, who pulled a masterstroke when he threw Keeffe a lifeline after he’d been delisted by Collingwood in October 2017, spoke almost with disdain. As if to say ‘why wouldn’t he be playing?’

“He (Keeffe) is a great football story and he’s getting better and better. The return of the big tall forward has suited him and he’s become an important player for us,” he said. “And off the field he’s a great person and an important leader for us.”

O’Keeffe is one of four senior statesmen at the GIANTS. Born 14 April 1990, he is four days younger than Callan Ward, 35 days younger than Matt de Boer and 138 days older than Phil Davis.

He was 13 and at high school when 2021 draftees Finn Callaghan, Cooper Hamilton and Josh Fahey were born, and, like many of Keeffe’s much younger teammates, they may not be fully aware of his remarkable football journey.

A one-time representative soccer player, he is an unheralded product of Gympie, a coastal town of about 50,000 people 170cm north of Brisbane best known for its gold field and as the one-time home of Andrew Fisher, Australian Prime Minister 1910-13, and champion jockey Glen Boss.

Having never played football in his youth, he finished his schooling as a boarder at Marist College in Brisbane, which also counts among it’s alumni ex-Australian cricketing great Matthew Hayden, Australian rugby legend John Eales, ex-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Brisbane AFL player Charlie Cameron.

There, the athletic Keeffe was spotted by Collingwood talent scouts and, under a cloud of secrecy, was drafted with with 69th pick in the 2008 rookie draft.

Of the current GIANTS players, only Ward was already in the system. He was a six-gamer with the Wester Bulldogs. In the same draft Davis went to Adelaide at pick 10 in the National Draft and de Boer to Fremantle with pick 19 in the same rookie draft.

Of the Class of 2008, Keeffe, Davis and DeBoer are three of only 19 players still in the AFL. Collingwood 264-gamer Steele Sidebottom has played the most games, ahead of Brisbane’s Daniel Rich (246), West Coast’s Jack Redden (242), Hawthorn’s Liam Shiels (242) and Luke Breust (239), North Melbourne captain Jack Ziebell (239), Brisbane’s Mitch Robinson (232), Adelaide captain Rory Sloane (229) and West Coast captain Luke Shuey (211), with de Boer (211) 13th on the list. Davis (187) is 21st.

Interestingly, Keeffe’s 79 games is three more than fellow 2007 draftee Mitch Brown, now at Melbourne after stints at Geelong and Essendon. He has played 76.

Keeffe will be 315 days between his 79th and 80th AFL games. That’s 105 days quicker than his return from his first knee reconstruction.

But his latest layoff will seem like a short holiday compared to his longest stint on the sideline. He was 1344 days between his 40th game in Round 23 2014 – his last game for Collingwood – and his 41st game in round 7 2018 – his first game for the GIANTS.

Keeffe celebrates a goal during the 2013 Elimination Final for Collingwood.

Suspended for 2015-16 for taking a banned substance when playing at Collingwood, he spent 2017 in the Collingwood reserves before he was de-listed and the GIANTS jumped at him.

His year-by-year game tally at GIANTS reads 8-10-13-8, including a 2018 semi-final and a 2019 preliminary final. With this week’s game his GIANTS total will equal his Collingwood tally.

At Collingwood, after two years of suburban footy, he played 5-9-8-18 games from 2011-14.


Get ready for AFL footy's blockbuster return to Sydney for Sydney Derby XXIII at Accor Stadium on March 19.