Exclusive: Cheltenham Town’s Aidan Keena On £100K Price Tag, Manager Change & More

Aidan Keena completed a move to League One outfit Cheltenham Town in January, seamlessly fitting into Wade Elliott’s squad, returning an applaudable six goals alongside three assists in 19 fixtures.

Since then, the Irishman has endured a difficult spell in Gloucestershire. Here, he opens up on his time so far with the Robins, previous experiences, and his footballing idol.

Born in Mullingar, a small town in Ireland, Keena spent time with League of Ireland Premier Division side Shelbourne alongside St Patrick’s Athletic where he would make his professional debut aged just 17.

Now 24, the forward reflects on his younger days and those who inspired and shaped his style of play: “Growing up being a striker, Robbie Keane obviously, being Irish, but I love Fernando Torres. I’m a Liverpool fan as well.” 

Spending time in Scotland, with Falkirk alongside Hearts, one of his most memorable footballing achievements came during his stay with the Jam Tarts: “Played in the Scottish semi-cup final at Hampden Park against Inverness, that was a good one, I was 19 at the time”. 

The former Hartlepool United man is clearly a very proud and driven individual, continuing to list; “Making my U21 debut for Ireland, that was nice”, while also adding “beating Forest Green last season” as achievements he was most proud of.

It was back in his native homeland of Ireland where Keena would really make a name for himself, alerting the attention of former Director of Football Micky Moore. With Sligo Rovers, the fox in the box excelled, netting 18 goals in the 2021/2022 season, topping the goal-scoring charts, whilst also adding European football to his CV.

“It was brilliant, the club qualified when I wasn’t there and I came in and we weren’t doing good that season. Again, we had a manager change not long before we had our European games. It was just the way we could get that new manager bounce, got a bit of confidence into us and we went into those games as big underdogs.”

“We beat Motherwell away, we beat them at home as well and Bala Town actually before that. We beat them and went away to Viking and it was a real eye-opener. They were brilliant, beat us 5-1 away and just the difference in levels was mad. Yeah, it was a good experience, you think Norway, it’s not going to be that good of a level or whatever but it was brilliant”. 

Revelling in nostalgia, all goals for attackers are memorable. However one sticks out more than most; “Motherwell away with Sligo Rovers. That was good, we won 1-0 away, that was unexpected, we thought we would get hammered over there, so that was a nice one”. 

For every player, being able to represent your country is an incredible and desirable achievement. “I didn’t quite make the first team but settled for the 21s. It was nice, I played right up from 15 up to 21s.”

“When I was 15, I was still just playing for my local team and ended up playing with boys from Man City’s academy. It was intimidating because I was still living in my hometown and my house and they were off playing Southampton and Man United and big teams. Confidence-wise, I was thinking, ‘how am I going to do here?’ But you’re with them for 24 hours a day so after the first couple of days, it’s fine.”

He added: “Then obviously for the debut, by the time that comes around you’ve trained with them, four, five times and you know you’re good enough to be there so it’s a good experience.”

Ultimately, Cheltenham Town would come calling for the 24-year-old’s services following his scintillating form with Sligo Rovers. With the impending departure of Alfie May, the Robins broke their transfer record to secure Keena’s signature.

For some, such pressure and expectation could be daunting, intimidating perhaps. “It didn’t really bother me to be honest. That has nothing to do with me. That’s one club chatting to another club. I don’t see the money in my bank, it doesn’t bother me at all, if I came for £100,000 it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Despite coming in as May’s eventual replacement, the two struck up an excellent partnership in such a short space of time. “It was so easy. Me and him really got on off the pitch and that helped us on the pitch. We quickly got to know what we’re about and it was easy then to play with him.

“I knew where he was going to be and he knew where I was going to be and we just loved taking shots. We just got the ball off each other and knew we were going to shoot so the other just followed it in”. 

In particular, goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton Athletic really suggest that this was precisely the tactic between the two.

With a year soon approaching since completing the switch, Keena discussed his time so far in Gloucestershire.

When I came in first, we picked up and we were doing well at the time. I was doing well. This season’s been a bit different, it’s been tough. A poor start, and obviously lost our manager since then, a new one’s come in and a lot’s changed.”

He continued; “It’s been two contrasting seasons but we’re starting to pick up again now and hopefully we can start getting results again.”

Following an incredible run in the Papa Johns Trophy (now known as the Bristol Street Motors Trophy), Cheltenham faced eventual League One champions, Plymouth Argyle at Home Park, with a place at Wembley on the line. After an incredible, spirited performance, The Robins would narrowly lose on penalties, despite Keena claiming an assist during the 1-1 draw.

You’ve got your sights on Wembley. You don’t really need much more motivation than that. I was obviously just getting over here and thinking if I can get to Wembley already then wow, unbelievable, but after that, we just fell short and it was a tough one”. 

Cheltenham Town equalled an unwanted record of failing to score in their opening 11 league games to begin the season, leading to the departure of head coach Wade Elliott. Since then, the appointment of former Port Vale and Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke has seen a much-needed turnaround in results and attitude around the club.

Wade Elliott brought me in and I got on really well with him so it was tough. Darrell has come in and he’s just simplified things really and gave us that confidence back. We’ve obviously picked up a few results since he’s come in so that helps the confidence as well”. 

Reflecting on his own recent performances and the struggles of enduring a spell of being unable to find the net, Keena continued.

Personally it’s been a tough start. All my career I’ve been a goalscorer and this is the first season I’ve had where I haven’t got a goal yet and it’s just about getting myself going again.”

Looking ahead to the weekend, the Completely Suzuki Stadium is the venue where Cheltenham welcome out-of-form Leyton Orient, who are currently eight games without a win in the league.

Because we’ve been getting results lately our confidence is starting to get higher, so we definitely fancy ourselves. Especially at home as well, we’re doing well and we’re going into every game now with that confidence that we can go on and get the result”. 

Despite suffering a disappointing start to the season, there’s a clear belief amongst the dressing room and fans alike that Cheltenham Town can certainly steady the ship and retain their status as a League One side.

This exclusive is courtesy of the University of Gloucestershire.

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