Keegan Daniel: The Sharks legend who saw it all

    2018-04-30 10:41
    Keegan Daniel (Gallo)

    Lloyd Burnard

    Cape Town - In the modern age of professional sport, where players move around from pay cheque to pay cheque, loyalty is rare. 

    There are very few examples left of players who serve one club or franchise from the beginning of their careers until the very end. 

    Keegan Daniel is one of those rarities. 

    Now 33, Daniel has announced that he will retire from all rugby at the end of the 2018 edition of Super Rugby. 

    He is unlikely to feature under coach Robert du Preez again this year, meaning he has almost certainly taken to the Kings Park turf for the last time. 

    It all ends for Daniel in the same place it started over 12 years ago when he signed with the Sharks in 2006. 

    Since then, he has accumulated over 100 caps in Super Rugby as well as the Currie Cup for the Durbanites, solidifying his status as one of Sharks rugby’s greatest servants. 

    He leaves the sport with no regrets, a well of fond memories, life-long friends and five Springbok Test caps to show for his efforts. 

    A young Keegan Daniel during his first year at the Sharks back in 2006.

    There was a stint in Japan with the Kubota Spears between 2014 and 2016, but when he returned to South Africa he only ever wanted to go back to the Sharks. 

    The body is still in good shape and Daniel feels like he could keep going a while longer, but with the likes of Dan and Jean-Luc du Preez, Philip van der Walt, Tera Mtembu and Jacques Vermeulen all fit and firing, opportunities have been limited for Daniel in 2018. 

    "It wasn't an overnight decision. I had to put some thought into it and talk to some mentors of mine and my wife," Daniel told Sport24.

    "I just found myself in a position where I wasn't able to contribute as much as I felt I could.

    "I had a real good run and it's not often that you get to do things on your own terms. I was fortunate enough that Gary (Teichmann, CEO) and the board were very open to the discussion and they've been exceptionally supportive of the decision."

    Looking back on his career, Daniel does so with a sense of satisfaction. The good times, he says, far outweigh the bad. 

    A loose forward with abundant energy, silky hands and a work ethic that was there for all to see, Daniel displayed strong leadership ability from early on in his career. 

    While earning his first Springbok cap in 2010 is an obvious highlight, Daniel considers the 2013 Currie Cup final the pinnacle of his career. 

    Daniel made his Springbok debut in 2010 against Ireland.

    The Sharks were underdogs, yet they emerged as 33-19 winners with Daniel as captain. 

    "Winning it was one thing, but that period of time was an incredible five months for all of us," Daniel remembers. 

    Brendan Venter was coaching the Sharks back then with Sean Everitt and Brad MacLeod-Henderson as his assistants. It was a coaching regime that was not in Durban for a long time, but Daniel believes that Venter created a culture that got the most out of his players. 

    "That six-month period was probably the best I had in Durban," he said. 

    Daniel has seen more than most. 

    He has shared the field with the likes of Butch James, Percy Montgomery, Bok Skinstad, John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Steyn and JP Pietersen to name just a handful of famous Boks. 

    He has also seen the coaching staff change numerous times, and in 2014 Daniel's mettle as a player was tested after Jake White arrived in Durban. 

    Daniel had just guided the Sharks to Currie Cup glory, but one of White's first actions as the new boss was to inform the skipper that he would not be part of the plans moving forward. 

    Daniel celebrates winning the 2013 Currie Cup as Sharks skipper.

    "I had never looked at another contract from another union up until when Jake came in 2014," Daniel remembers.

    "One thing I appreciated about Jake was that he was open and honest. He made it clear that I wasn't going to be part of his plans and that I didn't really suit his mould, and ultimately that was the first time I ever decided that it would probably be best for me to move elsewhere, but not to another South African union. I always wanted to come back to the Sharks and finish my career here."

    Despite having to deal with the reality of being unwanted, Daniel fed off White during the brief relationship the two shared. 

    "Under Jake it was quite hard for me to come from being Currie Cup captain and winning to not featuring in his plans at all, but that was also a learning curve for me," Daniel said.

    "I learnt how to deal with change and things not going your way.

    "He's a very intelligent rugby brain and you think you know it all until you meet a guy like that."

    Looking back, Daniel says it is the relationships he made at the Sharks that he will savour the most after he has left. 

    "I've been fortunate. I've played in so many eras with so many great players," he said, identifying two special individuals who are close to his heart. 

    "Jean Deysel ... we are as thick as thieves and I share a lot of the same values with him.

    "And a guy like Odwa (Ndungane), who I learnt a lot from, not only from a rugby point of view but from a cultural point of view. He gave me an understanding of black sportsmen and the road that they face. He opened up my eyes to the other side of rugby."

    Daniel will now move into the corporate world, where he will continue his work with Bay Union Financial Services, while he has not ruled out the possibility of coaching at a junior level. 

    "I still have a love for the game and I would like to be involved somehow," he said.

    "Durban is home for me. My network is here, my close friends and my wife are from here ... this is where we're at and it will be home for many years to come." 

    He may not be involved on the field anymore, but there is no doubt that Daniel will be visiting Kings Park regularly for years to come.

    He has earned the right to put his feet up, look on from the stands and enjoy watching a side that he has served for over a decade. 

    Daniel wasn't the biggest and there probably won't be any statues of him erected on the Kings Park outer fields, but he has done enough to go down as a Sharks legend and he should be given the respect that goes along with that. 

    "The Union has always held a massive place in my heart," he said. 

    "There were a lot more highlights than lowlights. 

    "Ultimately it's just been really good. The competitive person in me would have liked to convert a few more finals into victories, but that's sport. I've got no regrets and there is nothing that I would really change."

    There's not much more he could ask for, though Daniel does hope that he will be remembered as a man who showed respect for the game, his peers and everybody he came across during his career.

    "I think the most important thing is that I was genuine. No matter in which circle I walked or who I sat with, I was consistent and genuine over my time there," he said.

    "I cared most about the people, regardless of whether you were the guy who worked at the gate or if you were the CEO ... the way I treated people was the same. Hopefully I achieved that."

    Forever a Shark ...

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