McKeown hopes for end to drought

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 12:00am

Gary McKeown, probably playing his last match for Sun Hei, hopes to go out on a high note by leading the team to the league title with a crucial match against defending champions Happy Valley today.

The Sun Hei captain tasted personal glory on Wednesday when he was crowned the Hong Kong Footballer of the Year for the first time and now he hopes to steer Sun Hei to their first title since the club was founded three years ago. Sun Hei must win the game at Mongkok Stadium to claim the championship whereas a draw will be enough for Happy Valley, who are two points clear, to retain their crown.

Today's final league game is particularly important to McKeown because he knows that if he can't steer Sun Hei to victory today, he might never be able to do it - he is considering a move back in England to pursue a career in coaching next season.

'It would be the perfect way to go out if we win the league. At the moment, it's my last season but I need to speak to my boss and see what the options are. I have to wait until after tomorrow's game,' London-born McKeown, 31, said.

'Even if I retire, I might still play semi-professionally. I need to look around to see what I could do after my career finishes. That's why I'm thinking about going back home.

'Tomorrow's game will decide whether we have had a good season. If we win the match, it'll be a good season for us. If we don't, it'll be just another season where we will have been so close,' said McKeown, who had a spell with Arsenal from 1987-92.

Sun Hei have failed to shake off their bridesmaid tag - they lost to Happy Valley in the League Cup final last season and suffered defeats to South China in the Senior Shield and FA Cup finals this season. But McKeown has reason to be confident about their chances based on matches between the two sides this season. His team hammered Happy Valley 4-1 in the Shield semi-finals and earned draws with the same opposition in their other two clashes this campaign.

'I think we have a good chance. We'll go into the game quite confident,' he said.

But he cautions that Happy Valley are a dangerous side although their skipper Cheung Sai-ho is to be sidelined after having had an operation on his knee last week. 'Happy Valley have been in this crucial situation before and many of their players are experienced in this kind of game. That will be a big factor.

'Their players are very comfortable with the ball. We can't give them too much space nor too much time on the ball. We're more a working team. We're well-organised and physically better.'

McKeown also believes Happy Valley would be very unlikely to play for a draw. 'I don't think a defensive game suits Happy Valley as they are an attacking side,' he said.

Happy Valley team manager Lim Fong Kee backed that up, saying: 'We can't go into the match thinking we only need a draw. This is not the right way to go about it. We're aiming for victory.'