"I’ve had some dark days since I’ve been here. But I’m a better person for it now.”

Rhys O'Keeffe

Career : 2009 - 2013
Debut : Round 14, 2011 vs West Coast, aged 20 years, 322 days
Carlton Player No. 1135
Games : 3
Goals : 0
Last Game: Round 23, 2012 vs St Kilda, aged 22 years, 27 days
Guernsey No. 20
Height : 187 cm (6 ft. 1 in.)
Weight : 80 kg (12 stone, 8 lbs.)
DOB : 8 August, 1990

In 2013, there were two players with the nickname/acronym of ‘ROK’ playing at AFL clubs; All Australian Ryan O’Keefe at Sydney, and rookie Rhys O’Keeffe at Carlton. Sydney’s Ryan was an accomplished veteran of more than 200 matches, while Carlton’s Rhys had fought repeated injury, and managed only three senior matches in five seasons with the Navy Blues.

A South Australian, O'Keeffe came to Princes Park via selection 65 in the 2008 National Draft. His first junior club was Kilburn, before he joined SANFL club North Adelaide in 2006 to play for their Under-17s. Two years later he was a regular senior footballer for the Roosters, while also representing SA in the Under-18 National Championships. A strongly-built defender who was hard at the contest and a booming kick on his preferred left foot, Rhys was judged his state’s Best and Fairest at the championships, and selected in the Under 18 All Australian team.

When O’Keeffe joined Carlton his ambitions were at full rein, but disappointment lay in wait. After only a handful of games for the Blues’ VFL affiliate, the Northern Bullants in 2009, he was cut down by that most insidious of football injuries; osteitus pubis – what the old timers called a ‘strained groin’. Then in 2010, complications after surgery restricted Rhys to just two matches in the VFL. He was out of contract at the end of that year, and many youngsters in the same situation are not retained. However, the club was convinced that he had a future, so he was delisted, then re-drafted to Carlton’s Rookie List for 2011. Eventually back to full fitness, he began to justify the clubs’ faith and raised eyebrows again in a succession of excellent matches for the Bullants throughout the early rounds.

In June 2011, Andy Collins suffered a shoulder injury that forced the ex-Richmond recruit on to Carlton’s long-term injury list, and swung the door of opportunity open for Rhys at long last. Within days, he was elevated to Carlton’s senior roster, and selected to make his debut for the Blues against West Coast at Docklands Stadium in round 14. O’Keefe was named as Carlton’s substitute on that Sunday afternoon, and the team went into the match looking for a fourth straight win. But unbalanced by injuries to key players and two late changes, the Blueboys went down to the Eagles by six goals. Wearing guernsey number 20, Rhys was injected into the game when full-back Michael Jamison was subbed off with a leg injury a few minutes before half time. Playing across half-back, he weathered a second-half onslaught and collected eight possessions.

O’Keeffe returned to the Bullants after that baptism of fire, only to be dealt another huge blow when an Achilles tendon problem in his left heel flared up and wiped out the rest of his season. He was forced to endure the surgeon’s scalpel, and didn’t resume full training until well into 2012. Happily, his body held together throughout the latter stages of a tumultuous year for the Blues, and he earned a welcome recall to the seniors in round 20, when Carlton took on Brisbane at Docklands on a Saturday night. Again the substitute, Rhys replaced Eddie Betts in the last quarter, and celebrated his first victory at senior level. Three weeks later, he started on the ground at half-back in the last match of Carlton’s year against St Kilda at Docklands. Rhys matched up on Saints star Brendon Goddard at various times - and no doubt learned a lot - as Carlton’s awful 2012 culminated in a 15-point defeat.

In an interview prior to his second match, Rhys was candid when he summed up his years of disappointment like this: “I’ve always tried to stay pretty grounded. I’ve thought about this year, and not wanted to put too many expectations on myself - or get too disheartened, because everyone has bad days, and I’ve had some dark days since I’ve been here. But I’m a better person for it now.”

The emphasis on hope and determination in those words was timely, because while Carlton looked toward 2013 with similar aspirations, Rhys suffered another crushing blow when he was diagnosed with a serious infection in his problem heel. At first it was thought that he wouldn’t play again all season, but more surgery and intensive rehab got him back on the field in the latter half of the year, and allowed him to play 6 games for the Northern Blues.

Still, given that his rookie contract at Carlton concluded in 2013, O’Keeffe’s future with the Blues was always tenuous, and there was emotion from both player and club when he was delisted at season’s end.

O'Keeffe headed back to his original club Nth Adelaide for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, in 2016 he transferred across to rival SANFL club Glenelg and he was still there in 2017.


After departing from Princes Park. O'Keeffe returned to his original SANFL club North Adelaide, accompanied by his former Blues team-mate Luke Mitchell.

Mike and Dan

Mike & Dan with Rhys O’Keeffe

When it came to player trading time last October the Blues were consistently linked to Sydney’s Ryan O’Keefe. No trade eventuated, and Ryan remains with the Swans. Come November though, Wayne Hughes and his team decided we’d have our own R O’Keefe… Rhys O’Keeffe! OK, so the first name is slightly different, and Rhys plays in defence rather than up forward, but we at Mike and Dan reckon we may well have found our own true blueblood R O’Keeffe All Australian. So we took the chance to sit down with him, and chat about his introduction to the Carlton Football Club.

Brett Ratten indicated that first year players would work on a modified training program to ensure they don't get fatigued. What is your program like, and what is the major emphasis (speed, strength?).

The Club is really looking after the health of the young draftees, and as a result their programs are based on monitoring our progress. We are supposed to only do 70-80 per cent of the training load of rest of the team, the guys who have been there for a while. The Club is particularly trying to make sure we don’t get any stress related injuries or osteitis pubis. I guess in some ways it is good, because you get rested after you have done a fair bit of work like constant kicking. They pull you out of training if their monitoring systems say they need to.

Brett Ratten is big on players working or studying outside of training and playing commitments. What do you do outside of the club?

At the moment I am in the middle of the AFL PA apprenticeship with all the other draftees from the AFL Clubs. This is a 12-week training program and takes you through a whole lot of life skills like financial management and defensive driving skills. I haven’t been out to the defensive driving course yet, but I am looking forward to it!

Have you had a chance to sit down with the coach and set goals for season 2009? If so, what are you aiming to achieve?

My real aim is to debut in 2009 and develop my kicking skills and fitness. In particular, I’m working on the kicking skills on my right foot, that’s pretty important.

That brings us to our next question. Training watchers tell us about your amazing left foot. As a leftie, do you have a right one that you can use?

My right foot is getting better, and it is something that I am heavily working on! One of the strengths of my game is my left foot though.

Many pundits had you going far earlier in the draft than where we took you. Were you getting nervous on the day?

I sat at home and watched it on the internet, and I had all my family around me. I tried not to get too worried when my name wasn’t called out, thinking that if it was going to happen then it was going to happen. At about pick 60, Dad started to sing my local club song, thinking that I’d be playing with them again in 2009. But I am really glad that Carlton chose me, and I am happy to be here.

You’ve been spoken of as a possible future AFL midfielder. Given you have been a half back flanker, how would you feel about moving into the midfield during the course of your career?

That would be great but I have a long way to go fitness wise. At the moment, I am really benefiting from training with Judd and Murph in midfield drills. They are great guys to learn from, just to watch them and understand what you need to do.

We have a great heritage of South Australians at Carlton… Kernahan, Bradley, Motley, McKay, and now Russell, Gibbs and Austin. Does the club have a South Australian feel to it? And have you had much of a chance to work with Sticks and Braddles since you arrived?

I actually live with Jordan Russell, so there is a bit of a South Australian flavour there. Since I’ve been at the club, I’ve talked to Braddles a bit, and he’s given me a bit of advice on his early days at Carlton. I’ve also chatted to Sticks a few times. At the end of it all, everyone is different though.

Who have you lined-up on in the practice matches?

I lined up on Ryan Houlihan in both games. In the first game he stitched me up but the second game I thought I had his measure! He’s a gun player though.

Is there anyone at the club you were totally surprised by when you met them (i.e. much better than you though they were)?

Not really. Although I thought Eddie Betts would be quiet, but he was one of the loudest guys I’ve ever met in my life! He’s always talking, you can never shut him up! Wiggler is also a character. But he’s a funny one, 100 per cent ferocious one minute, and then having a real laugh the next. He’s good for advice too and helping the young boys out with life and stuff.

Who did you barrack for growing up? And is there an all-time favourite footballer of yours?

I was a Crows fan. Being a South Australian, there’s really only the two choices. Tony Modra was an all-time favourite. But I wasn’t a frustrated full-forward at any stage. I mainly played midfield in my childhood. The thing is that I love to take speccies.

At the end of it all we sensed that Rhys was enjoying his time at Carlton, and we felt like we definitely did have our very own navy blue R O’Keeffe. That’s O’Keeffe with a double ‘f’ for all the fans of other clubs, and we hope he can add ‘AA’ (All Australian) to his name over the course of his career, just like the bloke up in Sydney.

Blueseum: A summary of O'Keeffe's playing career | O'Keeffe's Blueseum Image Gallery
Contributors to this page: Jarusa , Bombasheldon , PatsFitztrick , molsey and camelboy .
Page last modified on Monday 30 of January, 2023 02:05:06 AEDT by Jarusa.

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