As a player Keating was involved with the famous Tipperary team of the 1960s, a team often described as the greatest of all-time. In a senior inter-county career that lasted from 1964 until 1975 he won two All-Ireland titles, four Munster titles, two National Hurling League titles and two Railway Cup title. Keating has also been the recipient of many awards and honours off the field. In 1971 he was named in the inaugural All-Star team as well as being presented with the prestigious Texaco Hurler of the Year award.
As a manager Keating has had much success with many different teams. At various times he has served as manager of the Galway, Offaly and Laois senior hurling teams, however, it has been with his own native Tipperary that he has enjoyed the most success. Between 1987 and 1994 Keating lifted Tipperary out of the doldrums and guided the team to two All-Ireland titles, five Munster titles and two National Hurling League titles. His second term in charge, from 2005 until 2007, was not as successful.
Michael Keating was born in Ardfinnan, County Tipperary in 1944. The youngest member of a large family, he received the nickname 'Babs' when he went to national school where he was the youngest of three Michael Keatings in the school. The nickname has remained with him into adult life and he is almost always exclusively referred to as Babs. As well as his sporting career, Keating has worked for many years for the petroleum oil company Esso. He is married to Nancy Maher, sister of Gerry Maher and his son-in-law is Irish jockey Johnny Murtagh, who is married to his daughter Orla.
Keating showed skill at Gaelic games in his youth and he quickly joined his local clubs. He played hurling with Ballybacon, however, he enjoyed little success at county level. Keating also played football with Ardfinnan with whom he won five senior county football titles.
Keating first came to prominence at inter-county level as a dual player with Tipperary. He played both hurling and football with the Tipp minor and under-21 teams, however, he enjoyed little success on the football field. With the Tipperary minor hurling team Keating captured his first Munster title in 1960 before later lining out in the All-Ireland final. Kilkenny provided the opposition on that occasion and went on to trounce Tipp by 7-12 to 1-11. Keating added a second Munster minor medal to his collection in 1961 before playing in a second consecutive All-Ireland final. It was a similar story to the previous year as Kilkenny won the game once again. In 1962 Keating was captain of the Tipperary minor hurling team as he collected a third consecutive Munster title. He later led his team out in the All-Ireland final in Croke Park as Kilkenny were the opponents for a third year in-a-row. The result was a familiar one as Tipp were defeated by 3-6 to 0-9. Keating later 'graduated' onto the newly created Tipperary under-21 hurling team. He won a Munster title in this grade in 1964, the inauguarl year of the competition, before later lining out in the All-Ireland final. Wexford were the opponents on that occasion, however, the game turned into a rout. Tipp won easily by 8-9 to 3-1 and Keating collected an All-Ireland under-21 medal.
That same year Keating made his senior debut. He began the year by collecting a National Hurling League medal following a victory over Kilkenny. Tipp later cantered casually past Cork in the provincial decider, giving Keating a first senior Munster medal. Kilkenny, the reigning All-Ireland champions and staunch local rivals of Tipp, provided the opposition in the subsequent All-Ireland final and were installed as the firm favourites. Tipp had other ideas and their fourteen-point winning margin, 5-13 to 2-8, was the biggest All-Ireland final win since Tipperary had overwhelmed Laois in the 1949 decider. It was Keating's first senior All-Ireland medal.
Keating found it difficult to nail down a permanent place on the team over the next few years as Tipp went into something of a decline. The team bounced back in 1967 with Keating collecting a second Munster title. By this stage, however, Tipp’s pool of players was ageing and the county’s hurling fortunes were in decline. Kilkenny provided the opposition in the subsequent All-Ireland final and provided more than a match for Tipperary. Three quick goals laid to rest a bogey that Tipperary had over Kilkenny since 1922.
Keating collected a second National League medal in 1968 before Tipp crushed Cork in the provincial final again. It was Keating's third Munster medal. For the fourth time that decade Tipperary later faced Wexford in the championship decider, however, the Munster champions were now in terminal decline and surrendered an eight-point lead at half-time giving Wexford the victory.
By 1971 Keating had come to be regarded as one of the great full-forwards of his era. That year he captured his fourth and final Munster medal as Tipp defeated Limerick. Kilkenny provided the opposition against Tipperary in that year’s All-Ireland final, the first to be broadcast in colour by Telfis Éireann. In an exciting and high-scoring game Tipp relied on two freak goals to capture a 5-17 to 5-14 victory. The game itself will surely be remembered for the image of Keating discarding his worn-out boots and playing the last few minutes of the match in his bare feet. This moment was listed as one of RTÉ's Top 20 GAA Moments in a special television programme in 2005. Keating continued hurling with Tipp for another few seasons and retired in 1975.
Keating also lined out with Munster in the inter-provincial hurling competition and enjoyed much success. He first played with his province in 1965, however, it was 1968 before he captured his first Railway Cup medals. Keating captured a second Railway Cup title in 1970. He also won a Railway Cup football medal in 1972.
Keating's one-year term in charge of Galway saw a major improvement in the mindset of the team. Successful results were immediate and Galway qualified for the National Hurling League final at the start of 1979. Ironically, it was Keating's native-county of Tipperary that provided the opposition. The game, however, turned out to be a disaster for Keating as Tipp won with a score line of 3-15 to 0-8. Being beaten by treble scores did not bode well for Galway's chances in the championship. Galway's championship campaign didn't begin until July, however, Keating's team qualified for an All-Ireland semi-final show-down with Cork. Cork had won the three previous All-Ireland titles and were going for a remarkable fourth in-a-row. In theory the game should have been a walk-over for Cork, however, Galway had been waiting in the long grass and defeated 'the Rebels' by 2-14 to 1-13. Kilkenny provided the opposition in the championship decider. Both sides were neck and neck in the first-half, however, Keating's side took a two-point lead twelve minutes into the second-half. Unfortunately, this was the last time that 'the Tribesmen' scored in the game. A 2-12 to 1-8 defeat tells its own story and Keating resigned as Galway manager shortly afterward.
In 1986 the Tipperary senior hurling team had hit an all-time low. The county hadn’t won a Munster title since 1971 and went almost a decade without winning a single championship game. Tony Wall took over as manager in 1986, however, at the end of the year the Tipp County Board turned to Keating in an effort to revive the county’s flagging fortunes.
His first Championship game that year was against Kerry in the first round in Killarney. Tipp beat Kerry. Keating’s second game in charge of Tipperary nearly ended in disaster, however, the team managed a draw against Clare in the Munster semi-final. Tipp won on the second occasion, setting up a Munster final meeting with fierce rivals Cork. The closing stages of the game saw both sides take the lead, however, the game ultimately ended in a draw. The replay at FitzGerald Stadium turned out to be one of the classic games in the history of Munster hurling. Once again the sides were level after seventy minutes, however, after a period of extra-time Tipp emerged as victors with a 4-22 to 1-22 score line. It was the county’s first provincial title in seventeen years. Keating’s dream start as manager came to an end following an All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Galway.
In 1988 Keating consolidated on the previous year’s success by guiding his team to a National Hurling League title. Tipp later strolled through the Munster championship with relative ease and defeated Cork in a second consecutive Munster final. This victory allowed Tipp to advance to the All-Ireland final where Galway provided the opposition. Once again the men from the West put an end to Tipp’s championship hopes with a 1-15 to 0-14 defeat. It was a very disappointing defeat for Keating. His two star players, Pat Fox and Nicky English, did not play to their potential and the manager also received criticism for introducing John Leahy, then an unknown teenager.
1989 saw Keating’s side cruise to a third consecutive Munster title in-a-row. The provincial final was a particularly dour affair as Waterford took a physical approach and had two players sent off. The stakes were raised even higher for the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final when Antrim pulled off the shock of the decade with a victory over Offaly in the other semi-final. The winners of the Tipperary-Galway match would be certainties to win the final. That game was an ill-tempered affair with the men from the West getting two players sent off. With two players extra Tipp finally defeated Galway and reached a second consecutive All-Ireland final. Antrim’s presence in the final was a novelty, however, Keating’s side captured a huge 4-24 to 3-9 victory. After eighteen years Tipp had finally reached the summit of the hurling world.
In 1990 Keating set out to prove that Tipp’s All-Ireland victory was not a flash-in-the-pan. Accordingly, both the team and the manager exuded an over-confidence from the start of the championship. In an infamous interview Keating dismissed Cork’s chances in the championship by stating that ‘donkeys don’t win derbies.’ This comment severely riled the Cork hurlers, so much so that they defeated Tipp by 4-16 to 2-14 in a classic Munster final. Tipp had lost their All-Ireland crown while Cork went on to win the ultimate accolade in 1990.
Keating’s side regrouped in 1991 and there was an enevitibility about their Munster final show down with Cork. The game looked like it would not only decide the resting place of the Munster title but also the destination of the All-Ireland cup as well. The game turned out to be a classic and ended in a draw, Tipp 2–16, Cork 4-10. The replay turned out to be a game that had everything and Keating’s side stormed to a 4-19 to 4-15 victory. Galway fell heavily to Tipperary in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final, setting up a championship decider with Kilkenny. It was the first meeting of the two sides in twenty years. ‘The Cats’ got off to a better start, however, it was Keating’s men who peaked in that game. A 1-16 to 0-15 victory gave Keating’s team a second All-Ireland title in three years.
1992 turned out to be Keating’s worst season as Tipperary manager. Tipp were defeated by arch rivals Cork at the first hurdle, thus surrendering their Munster and All-Ireland crowns.
1993 saw Keating’s side have one last hurrah. Tipperary cruised through Munster and defeated Clare in the provincial final by double scores. The 3-27 to 2-12 score line was even more impressive than it sounds. The subsequent All-Ireland semi-final saw Tipp take on a new-look Galway team. The classic clashes of the 1980s were relived, however, Keating’s side were beaten by just two points.
1994 began well for Keating. His team captured a second National League under his tenure in charge. All signs pointed to the fact that Tipp would retain their Munster title, however, the team was defeated in the early stages of the Munster championship.
After a year away from management Keating returned to the inter-county scene in 1995 as manager of Laois. It was a county that was more famous for football rather than hurling, however, it was also a county that had potential. This was evisent in Keating's first dew months in charge when he guided the county to the semi-final of the National Hurling League. Tipperary, Keating's native county, provided the opposition on that occasion, however, the game tunred out to be closer than many people expected. Tipp won by 1-13 to 1-11, however, Laois could claim a moral victory and take pride from the way that they played. Unfortunately, this early success was not converted into success in the championship. Laois exited the Leinster Championship at a very early stage in both 1996 and 1997. Keating resigned as manager following their exit in the latter year.
Shortly after resigning as Laois manager Keating replaced John McIntyre as manager of Offaly. Offaly, unlike Laois, had enjoyed much success in the recent past. They ahd won the All-Ireland in 1994 and were generally regarded as one of the most skilful groups of hurlers in the country during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the team also earned a reputation for being lazy when it came to training. This was something that Keating set out to rectify, however, he quickly earned the enmity of some key players. Relations is the dressing room were frosty at best, however, Keating's feelings weren't properly expressed until after the Leinster final defeat by Kilkenny. In a post-match interview Keating lamented his players performance and described the team as 'sheep in a heap.' The Offaly players took umbrage to his statement and effectively forced Keating out as manager. He was replaced by Michael Bond and Offaly later went on to win the All-Ireland final.
In 2005 the Tipperary senior hurling team was in the doldrums. After winning the All-Ireland title in 2001 the team took a backward step and recorded few victories of note in the intervening years. After Ken Hogan’s resignation as manager at the end of that year’s championship, the Tipp County Board turned to Keating in an effort to revive the county’s flagging fortunes once again.
Keating’s first game of the championship was a Munster quarter-final meeting with near neighbours Limerick. In the first ten minutes Limerick scored two goals, however, Tipp fought back to seal the victory. A defeat of Waterford in the Munster semi-final set up a second consecutive Munster final meeting with Cork. Keating’s side got off to a good start, however, the All-Ireland champions showed their worth by a capturing a 2-14 to 1-14 victory over Tipp. The subsequent All-Ireland quarter-final saw Keating’s side take on Waterford for the second time that year. There was some mild controversy from the Tipp camp over this second meeting of the two sides. Keating was less than pleased when Waterford reversed the earlier defeat and captured a three-point victory.
2007 saw Keating’s side taken on Limerick in their opening game. It was a game that Tipp were expected to win, however, Limerick put up a good fight and the game ended in a draw. For the replay of the game Keating made the drastic move of dropping legendary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins. The second game saw Keating’s side lead by ten points at one stage, however, by the end of the seventy minutes both sides were level once again. A period of extra-time failed to separate these two sides were forced to meet for a third time. Once again extra-time had to be played, however, after nearly four hours of hurling Limerick emerged as the winners. After the defeat Keating looked less than impressed when he was forced to do a television interview alongside ecstatic Limerick manager Richie Bennis. The All-Ireland qualifiers saw Keating’s side win all of their games, including a victory over Cork for the first time since 1991. It looked as if Tipp had come out on the easy side of the draw as their opponents, Wexford, were not regarded as being up to much. Because of this Keating may have been guilty of having one eye on the All-Ireland semi-final. His decision to relegate star forward Eoin Kelly to the substitutes bench baffled many, particularly since Kelly tops the chart as Tipp’s all-time top scorer. The game itself was an exciting one, however, a Damien Fitzhenry penalty sealed the victory for Wexford and dumped Tipp out of the championship. Keating resigned as manager shortly after this defeat.