'I needed to stop him' - Mayo's Lee Keegan admits he provoked Diarmuid Connolly
Keegan still believes Mayo are good enough to win All-Ireland
LEE Keegan says the logic behind his part in the incident that saw Diarmuid Connolly sent off in Mayo's drawn All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin was both simple and sound.
"Diarmuid is obviously one of their best players, I'm going to try to stop him any way I can to win the game for Mayo," he explained yesterday upon his announcement as Footballer of the Month for August.
"We haven't won an All-Ireland in a long time and we've been told before we're a bit of a soft touch.
"So the reality is that if I'm marking one of their best players, I need to stop him at all (costs)."
The passage of action - both Connolly's reaction and Keegan's initial contact - were the subject of intense micro analysis in the form of media scrutiny and public dissection across social media.
Asked whether he deliberately provoked Connolly, Keegan replied: "I suppose just a few minutes before I had been pushed over myself.
"So I was kind of a small bit provoked myself. But that's not something you'd try to think about on the pitch too often because you need to hold your head as well."
For his part, Keegan says he was not affected by the episode in the prelude to last Saturday's replay or particularly consumed by Connolly's eventually successful appeal process.
Nor, he adds, was Keegan inclined to bear any resentment towards Connolly or Dublin.
"To be honest after the game I just wished him all the best for the final," Keegan revealed.
"They beat us. I wouldn't hold any grudge off the pitch. He's a top player and he's going to have a huge influence in the final." Keegan also sprung to the defence of team-mate Robbie Hennelly, the Mayo goalkeeper who was criticised in some quarters over his hurried kickout which preceded Dublin's first goal.
Hennelly was in the process of tying his boot laces and whilst putting his gloves back on, was prompted to speed up his kickout by referee, Eddie Kinsella.
"I think it's a bit unfair really," Keegan reckoned.
"We are the ones probably to blame because we are the ones out the pitch.
"We are the ones not winning the breaking ball or not stopping the players coming through.
"From that point of view I wouldn't be blaming Rob at all, he's got a bit of unfair criticism.
"As a Mayo player I'm going to defend one of my team-mates when I hear stuff like that.
"Rob is a top 'keeper, if you look at his stats in the first half alone, I think he just gave one kickout away. It's probably very easy for people to say the two kickouts cost us but the last 15 minutes overall cost us the game.
"As I say we ran out of gas, we have to look at it and see why this happened.
"I wouldn't be quick to blame Rob, I don't think it's fair he's taking that kind of criticism."
Despite the flood of goodwill and sympathy towards Mayo in what was their second All-Ireland semi-final replay loss in succession, directly after back-to-back final appearances and defeats, Keegan says he doesn't "see why people should feel sorry for us".
"No one feels sorry for Dublin or Kerry if they're beaten, so there's no one feeling sorry for us.
"We just have to keep coming back. We're a good enough team to win it and sympathy doesn't really get you anywhere really, does it?
"You're either good enough to win it or you're not," he added. "I know we are good enough but we haven't proved it yet, and that's a tough thing for me to say because we have some of the best players in the country and they've demonstrated that over the last four or five years.
"At the end of the day we're only trying our best, we're only human, we make mistakes like anyone else.
"Until we win it we have to keep doing it, and that's the other side of it. You know, there's probably 30 other counties who would love to be in our position, challenging the top two teams year in, year out.
"So I know it's not a consolation for us because we were beaten again but we have to keep coming back because what's the point if you're not going to think that you can win it.
"We believe we can win it," Keegan concluded, sounding a note of optimism.
"We believe that we're good enough. We just haven't done it yet."