It's been nearly a decade in the making, but Jack Keating can't wait to pull on the Cringila jersey once again in 2024.
The Lions earlier this week announced that they had signed the veteran for next year's campaign, with the move coming almost 10 years after he departed the den to join fellow Premier League club Wollongong Olympic.
Keating - who played for the Wollongong Wolves before getting his first IPL shot with Cringila - moved to Olympic ahead of the 2016 season.
The defender enjoyed some great success at Olympic, with side finishing second in 2017 and 2018 before breaking through to claim the championship a year late. They nearly got the title double in 2019, falling 2-1 to Corrimal in the grand final.
It's a defeat that still stings for Keating four years later. He has plenty of empathy for the Lions after they lost this year's decider 1-0 to Coniston in September.
The 31-year-old is eager to do anything he can to help the Lions take that next step in 2024.
"If you look at what the team did last year, I think it speaks for itself. I think the team is extra hungry to go one better and I want to be part of it," Keating told the Mercury.
"In my initial meeting with (Crini coach) Jorge (De Matos), we spoke about my experience - the team just needs a little bit of direction. They had a very good defensive record this year, so I think it's about having a vocal point at the back and adding a bit of experience.
"If I can bring that to the team, that would be great."
Keating arrives at Cringila after spending one season at Albion Park. It's a year that never truly got off the ground for the veteran, who took some time away from the game for personal reasons.
However, he says that he feels rejuvenated as he prepares for his next - and potentially last - chapter with the Lions.
"It's unfortunate how this year panned out. I had a lot of aspirations, but that's not how it panned out for me. I'm hoping to have a fairer crack at it next year and get back to what I do best and play with the lads," Keating said.
"I have lots of fond memories at Crini and I'm eager to see what we can do towards the latter part of my career."
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