Sometimes, as we know, watching the game can be a grind. There are so many spectacles which are tactically overdone, technically undercooked, inspirationally empty and to be endured, not enjoyed.

Then there was the activity of watching Richard Keogh playing at right-back for Carlisle United.

With Keogh on that defensive flank, nothing was left to chance, little left to ponder, and absolutely nothing sacrificed at the expense of hard and fast entertainment.

It wasn’t so much act first, think later, since there was definitely some thinking involved. But that was over quickly. And then he would get the ball and run.

Keogh, who has announced his retirement at 37, made his established name as a centre-back, one capable of holding together a Championship defence, one eventually good enough to play internationally.

Yet at full-back, for the Blues, he treated us to a more straightforward yet rambunctious sight and idea. Blessed with a big and powerful frame, Keogh channelled these qualities in a perhaps unexpected way when this large and solid defensive chap took possession and did not so much progress up the pitch as gallop, leaving opponents behind like bollards, ball somehow still in tow, the notion of football as a running game never clearer.

News and Star: Keogh was a crowd-pleasing player in his two years at CarlisleKeogh was a crowd-pleasing player in his two years at Carlisle (Image: Stuart Walker)

Observing Keogh making urgent ground near the touchline brought to mind a fireman running with the hose to a blazing building. Nothing would stop him until he got there. So relentless was he in his pursuit of progress that the former assistant manager Dennis Booth reckoned Keogh might have carried on sprinting had the Waterworks End not been there to stop him.

The vision of Keogh tearing off the Brunton Park pitch, vaulting the stands and making it onto the A74, halfway to Gretna – still with the ball at his feet in the outside lane – is an appealing one. As indeed it became to Carlisle supporters, who elevated the defender to the status of cult hero in a period when few others occupied banner space.

It is hard to think of a player more full-frontal in his commitment and approach to the basics of the game than Keogh. For two years United shared in that, experienced it. For Keogh was always an experience: someone who’d run, jump, tackle, head, commit, operate in the harsh spotlight always, rather than in the shadows, give every grain of himself to the idea that football is a game of charging about and battling and thrusting yourself at everything until you’ve got the job done.

It's easy, and rather hackneyed, so say they don’t build players quite like this any more. But it’s also true. How many, from the academy hothouses of modern football, do you see in this full-on mould?

At Carlisle it’s hard to think of many with all of Keogh’s parts. Dynel Simeu, an endearing loanee two seasons ago, had a little of his emphatic bearing but in a more expressive, body-language sort of way. Keogh was not a man of gesture but of action, action, action.

There seemed an innocence to his enthusiastic-farmhand kind of demeanour. He was, of course, smarter than that, as his career at clubs such as Coventry City and Derby County attested, likewise his caps for the Republic of Ireland.

News and Star: Keogh was an expressive player throughout his time at UnitedKeogh was an expressive player throughout his time at United (Image: Stuart Walker)

Yet it’s still hard not to wish a few more could have given as much as he did in the simplest of ways, the moment he pulled on his boots and trotted onto the pitch: a young bull pawing the turf, before the whistle would unleash him.

The truth is that Keogh’s time at Carlisle was a wider period of tricky transition and qualified growth. After a brief loan spell in 2007/08, his permanent time at the club from 2008 to 2010 saw United readjusting under Greg Abbott’s management: the rise of Simpson and McDonald and Ward – that team with real spark and potential in its boots – now fading.

The 2008/09 campaign was tortuous in League One. It was given some undeniable fighting character by Keogh, particularly late in the season, in trying circumstances. The following term, 2009/10, was a season of gradual lift yet it still presented headaches even towards the end.

Not, though, in Keogh’s case. When Abbott moved him from the middle to the right of the defence there was a refreshing spirit about a team that definitely needed it. He had given himself totally to the idea of improving his condition before the season – Keogh pounding the pavements around Carlisle had been a common sight that summer – and the results were so popular, so energetically and amusingly good, that the flag with the legend ‘In Keogh We Trust’ soon appeared.

Even the rare blemishes came honestly. In the penalty shoot-out to defeat Leeds in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern final, Keogh raised his arm to take one, instead of cowering in the group, and promptly spanked it high over the Warwick Road End crossbar and somewhere towards Upperby.

News and Star: Keogh spectacularly missed a penalty in 2010's shoot-out against Leeds - but United still made it to WembleyKeogh spectacularly missed a penalty in 2010's shoot-out against Leeds - but United still made it to Wembley (Image: Jonathan Becker)

Yet nobody blamed Keogh for approaching it in the Keogh way. After Adam Collin saves sent Carlisle to Wembley, it was a shame United did not call on Keogh in the middle of their defence on the day Southampton castigated the Blues under the arch.

He was, as usual, pressed into service on the right and, in that hollow 4-1 thrashing , the odd occasion Keogh got the ball and dashed forward with it offered a big United support an isolated moment of roar and cheer in an otherwise scathing cup final.

Keogh always appreciated those roars. The crowd-pleaser was pleased by the crowd too. Chatting to him at Wycombe last season confirmed an affection that had not fizzled away at all, despite all those years spent at higher places.

He remained a defender for hire until his mid to late 30s, latterly in a futile League Two rescue attempt at Forest Green Rovers. His final years had required Keogh to rebuild his career following his decision, in 2019, to get into a car driven by his Derby team-mate Tom Lawrence, who was over the limit and duly crashed into the back of another vehicle, driven by the Rams player Mason Bennett, and then a lamppost.

This left Keogh with serious leg injuries, sacked by Derby (he later won £2.3m from the club in compensation) and into a low mental place. How much sympathy to apportion is a case of each to their own – Keogh’s detailed take on the matter is best expressed in this Guardian interview – but he did go on to repair body and mind, and finished, in 2024, on his own terms, which felt like how it should be with someone like Richard Keogh.

In football, when players leave the stage and time filters them slowly away, what we tend to be left with is a snapshot. What we think about when we think about Keogh will always be something that, all in all, raises a smile. Not everyone has that said of them, but United’s right-back raider, who’s now going to become a coach, warrants it. Keep on running, Rich.