Joe Keyes is set to realise a dream after being called into Ireland coach Mark Aston’s squad for Sunday’s World Cup clash with Wales.
The 22-year-old Enfield-born stand-off played in Ireland’s qualifying wins over Russia and Spain in 2016 but was forced to watch from the sidelines as they beat Italy and lost narrowly to Papua New Guinea.
Now he is set for a recall for the final group game at Perth’s Rectangular Stadium and his dad John, a London development officer whose own father came from Waterford, is preparing to fly out to Australia to witness his World Cup debut.
Ireland in action against Italy
“It would mean everything if I got picked,” Keyes told Press Association Sport during a promotional visit to Elizabeth Quay in Perth.
“My dad is flying down and he’s been a part of my journey since I was little so to represent Ireland in a World Cup in Perth in front of him would be a dream come true.”
Ireland, who were the only home nation to win on the opening weekend, need to beat Wales and hope for an unlikely United States win over Papua New Guinea to progress to the knockout stages and a likely quarter-final with England.
“If we don’t qualify, we’ll do everything in our power to finish on a high and put in our best performance yet,” Keyes said.
“It would be a big achievement to get two wins out of three. I still can’t really work out why only one team goes through from our group but three go through from other groups.
“I think to win two out of three and not go through would be a tough one to take but they are the cards we’re dealt and we’ll be pleased with two out of three.”
Little-fancied Ireland have been one of the success stories of the World Cup.
“I can’t fault the boys’ effort in the last two games,” Keyes said. “Against Italy it was outstanding and I thought we were unlucky not to get anything out of the game last weekend because I thought we matched PNG in most departments.
“We’ve turned a lot of heads in this tournament. Not many people expected much from us but the boys dug in and it’s rewarding that we’re making a bit of a name for ourselves.
“It’s been amazing. We’re all close as a group, a passionate bunch too, and we’ve gelled really well.”
Wales are still looking for a first World Cup win since 2000 after losing heavily to PNG and Fiji, but Keyes is expecting a tough battle from John Kear’s men on Sunday.
“I know a few of their boys and I’m sure they will be revved up after two tough games,” he said. “The last time we played them they gave us a bit of a hiding.”
Kear has made two changes to his side, bringing in Rochdale forward Gavin Bennion, who joined the squad in Townsville, for what will be his debut and recalling a fit-again Matty Seamark.