O’Keefe was fielding for NSW when a Sean Abbott bouncer struck Phillip Hughes, batting for South Australia, on November 25 last year.
Hughes died in hospital two days later. And a part of his beloved sport died with him.
No longer do crowds roar with delight when a batsman is struck.
No longer do fast bowlers seek to ‘badge’ a batsman on the helmet.
No longer are 63 (Hughes’ score when struck) and 408 (Hughes’ Test cap number) just mere numerals in Australian cricket.
No longer is cricket a largely innocent game, played seriously, for fun.
“The game has changed, for me, forever. It’s not what it was,” O’Keefe said.
“But you know that is how fragile life is, I guess.
“I just hope in my lifetime that I never have to see anything like that again, and we can remember Phil Hughes for what he was – which was a great bloke and an even better player.”
David Warner held Hughes’ hand when he was taken off the SCG on a stretcher.
“He’s with us every day,” Warner said.
“We always know our mate is looking down on us and we’ll always do our best for him every time we walk out on the field.”
The bumper from Abbott, who hasn’t spoken publicly about the incident, struck Hughes on the neck.
In medical vernacular, his vertebral artery was dissected, leading to a subarachnoid haemorrhage in the brain.
Australian cricket’s team doctor Peter Brukner called it a “freakish accident”, adding the condition was “incredibly rare”.
Hughes, who had played 26 Tests, was dead just three days before his 26th birthday.
And the sporting world joined his farming family from Macksville in NSW in grief.
Around the world, people were moved to put their cricket bats out the front of their houses as a mark of respect – the idea generated by a Sydney IT worker snowballed via social media.
Cricketers, from elite to park level, were united in sadness.
Hughes’ death is subject of a NSW coronial inquiry, and a separate Cricket Australia review into the causes and circumstances.
Both are yet to release any findings as Australia’s cricket fraternity marks the first anniversary of Hughes’ death.
At the request of Hughes’ family, commemorations will be low key.
Australia host New Zealand in the third Test at Adelaide Oval, a game starting on Friday – exactly one year since Hughes’ death.
It will be unlike the raw emotion in Adelaide last December when Test cricketers returned to the field.
This time, Hughes will be simply honoured: players will wear black armbands – as will cricketers contesting the three Sheffield Shield games around the nation, also beginning on Friday.
At the Adelaide Test, during the first adjournment, a tribute package will be screened at 4.08pm – referring to Hughes’ Test cap number.
“It’s going to be a really tough day and I think the guys playing are going to do it tough,” former Australian captain Michael Clarke says.
“I think it’s really important that we continue to support the Hughes family and show our respect.”
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