Keane, John (1916–75), hurler, was born at 80 Barrack Street, near Walsh Park in Waterford city, the youngest son of Thomas Keane, labourer. His education at Mount Sion CBS, famed for nurturing hurling talent in Waterford, as well as a family love of hurling, instilled in Keane a deep commitment to Gaelic games. His natural talent was fostered by the Christian Brothers and by the Mount Sion club, then a junior club. The rise of Mount Sion as the dominant club in Waterford and the simultaneous rise of Waterford county as contenders in the sport in Munster and Ireland are inextricably linked with the career of John Keane, who is regarded as Waterford's greatest ever hurler. He was a tremendously powerful and skilful centre back and is considered by most hurling historians as the finest centre back to have played the game; he was named in the Irish Independent's ‘team of the century’ in 1984. A fitting epitaph to his career would record that he was the only man who could subdue the legendary Mick Mackey (qv).
In 1934, aged seventeen, he played full back in the Waterford junior team that won the All-Ireland championship. That year he also helped his club to win a junior county title, promoting them to the senior league and ushering in a new club power in Waterford. A senior county debut followed in 1935, at corner back, against Clare in the league. By 1937 he had made centre back his position, and risen to national prominence, when he held down Mick Mackey in the Munster championship, a game Waterford narrowly lost. However, some consolation followed that year when he made a successful debut in Munster's Railway Cup team. An inter-provincial player for Munster, he was the first Waterford man to captain the team (1939) and won seven Railway Cup winner's medals (1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, and 1949). In 1938 he was a central figure in the first Waterford side to win the Munster championship. They defeated Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final, and thus set up a meeting with Dublin in the final; Keane and the Waterford backs played well, but their forward line was lightweight and they were defeated. By way of compensation for this disappointment, Mount Sion won their first senior county title, a victory Keane accounted as one of the greatest sporting memories of his career.
In 1939 Keane again had the better of Mackey, but Waterford lost their Munster title, which they did not win again until 1948, despite coming close on a number of occasions. In that year an ageing Waterford team was believed to have its last chance to win an All-Ireland title; three of the team had played in the 1938 decider, while the rest of the players had at least a number of championship seasons behind them. Keane, at his own request, was switched to centre forward to add much needed brawn and skill to the attack. Waterford beat Cork in the Munster final, despite a late flurry of scores from Christy Ring (qv). They again faced Dublin in the final, after accounting for Galway in the semi-final. Keane, who had performed magnificently all year at centre forward, produced three goals and two points to help Waterford to its first All-Ireland success. He continued to play for Waterford until 1952, but won no further medals. With Mount Sion he recorded eight senior county championship successes, captaining the club from 1941 to 1951; he was also captain of Waterford for seven Munster championship campaigns. Keane was also a fine footballer. In 1939 he won a county junior title with Mount Sion, and in 1948 a Munster junior championship medal with Waterford.
After retiring Keane became involved in coaching. In 1957 and 1959 he trained the Waterford senior hurling team to All-Ireland finals, winning in 1959. The players were small, but he taught them to utilise their speed and skill to elude the opposition defenders, who in that era were traditionally big, slow, and tough. The strategy proved very successful. A loyal clubman, he served as chairman of Mount Sion for many years, and was also a club delegate to the county board, for whom he was treasurer for a period. He married May Dunne, with whom he had five children. At the time of his death he was a commercial representative for Dungarvan Joinery. Keane died 1 October 1975 in Limerick regional hospital after a long battle with illness.