Michael Keane says being crowned an Everton Blueblood deepens his strong connection with the Club he joined in summer 2017.
Centre-back Keane was chosen by Chairman Bill Kenwright to receive an honour previously bestowed on dyed-in-the-wool Evertonians Duncan Ferguson, Leon Osman and Tim Cahill.
Keane, who flourished under the tutelage of Marco Silva in 2018-19, placed great store on learning about Everton’s culture and history following his arrival from Burnley.
The 26-year-old's first Goodison Park campaign was disrupted by injury but with a fair wind – and after overcoming a skull fracture in the season’s opening weeks – the former Manchester United player has established himself as a cornerstone of Everton’s increasingly miserly rearguard.
“The longer you’re here, the more you get to know about the Club and its history and fans,” Keane told evertontv.
“And you start to feel a real part of it. That is how I’ve felt lately and this award just seals it.
“When you come to a new club, you want to become part of the culture and learn what it is about and how it operates.
“I try to do as much as I can for the community and on the pitch I try my best in training and in every match.
“To be honoured like this caps it off for me, I’ve never had an award like this… and I’m a bit overwhelmed.”
Keane started 33 Premier League games during the most recent campaign and was an instrumental figure in Everton recording 13 clean sheets in those matches.
He is poised to represent England at next month’s Nations League finals in Portugal after being recalled to the international fold following a towering start to the campaign.
Keane’s 115 headed clearances was the sixth-highest total recorded by a top-flight player, while only one defender in the division won more aerial battles than the Everton’s man’s 192.
Little wonder, then, that he refused to settle for his lot after returning to Gareth Southgate’s England squad and, ultimately, got the nod for two European Championship qualifying matches in March.
Keane marked the second – and his seventh cap – by scoring his first senior international goal to set England on the way to a 5-1 win in Montenegro.
Chairman Kenwright, who chooses an individual who "embodies the Everton spirit" for his annual award, paid tribute to Keane’s “heart, character, resilience and massive amount of talent”.
Manager Silva, credited by Kenwright with a big hand in Keane’s blossoming as an Everton footballer, noted: “We see a different Michael Keane now from the one who started in pre-season.
“For anyone who perhaps doubted Michael could be a strong player in our squad, well that is exactly what he is.
“You see it in how decisive he is on the field. He makes good decisions and has authority when he challenges for the ball.”
And Keane agreed with his boss’s assessment of the player’s growth since reporting for work last July.
“I think it’s gone from strength to strength,” said Keane.
“I had a strong pre-season, so I felt good going into the start of the Premier League. I started the season well, then got the injury [skull fracture, which sidelined Keane from two matches] but kicked on after that.
“We had a tough patch either side of Christmas but came out of it and showed the consistency which is our aim.
“It was a pleasure to play during the last few months of the season. We had a lot of clean sheets, scored goals and won big games.
“We need to take all that into next season.”
Keane, a regular participant in events hosted by the Club’s official charity, Everton in the Community, received his Chairman’s Blueblood Award at USM Finch Farm.
Asked to report to Everton's training headquarters on a scheduled free afternoon, Keane was caught off guard by an esteemed presentation committee.
If the centre-half was “shocked” by his Dixie, he also confessed his pride at being bracketed with the likes of former Everton trio Ferguson, Osman and Cahill.
“They are a bunch of legends at this club,” said Keane.
“Hopefully I can become one of them. I may have only been here two years and the first year didn’t go very smoothly but this one has been a lot better and hopefully there’s much more to come from me.
“The award was a huge shock. I got told I was coming in for an interview, walked down the corridor and had the Chairman, manager and majority shareholder waiting for me.
“I didn’t expect it at all but it’s a massive honour. I was at the Dixies last year and know what this award means.
"I think it shows how far I’ve come this year and I’m just really proud and grateful to the Chairman for giving me this.”
On his commitment to supporting EitC, Keane added: “I think it’s really important to go into the community and participate in different things as players.
“It’s always really enjoyable as well, I have a great time and meet a lot of good people at all the events.
“When you go to schools and events with children, you appreciate how happy they are to see you and that you’re making their day. That makes you feel privileged and honoured to be in this position.
“Everton in the Community is doing a lot of brilliant work and all the players are really happy to be part of that – and hopefully it will continue getting better and better.”