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Friday 15 December 2017

For Lee it is not all black or yellow

Keegan sees no benefit harking back to 'campaign' conspiracies

Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps ambassador, Mayo footballer Lee Keegan, at the launch in Croke Park of the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps 2017
Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps ambassador, Mayo footballer Lee Keegan, at the launch in Croke Park of the Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps 2017
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly is black-carded by ref Paddy Neilan during last Sunday’s league final in Croke Park

It's funny how, even when Lee Keegan isn't part of the story, his name gets pulled and dragged into the sub-plot.

Mayo weren't playing in last Sunday's Allianz Football League final, yet their Footballer of the Year still found himself embroiled in the pre-match 'narrative' last week.

He was name-checked by éamonn Fitzmaurice in his claims of a Dub-centric attempt to talk up Kerry's physicality in their recent Tralee encounter.

In defending his rationale for highlighting Dublin's "seriously hard edge", Fitzmaurice explained: "My worry was that it was developing into a situation like the All-Ireland final replay last year, where there was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan that was effective."

You know the rest ...

But what did Keegan himself make of it all? "I paid him!" he laughs, speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch of the 2017 Kellogg's GAA Cúl Camps.

More seriously, he paints a picture of staying oblivious to the rumpus. "Ultimately it was about Kerry/Dublin," he says. "So from a Mayo point of view, I didn't really have a lot of interest bar the game, watching."

Off the ball

As it transpired, he was in Belfast last Sunday and only caught the highlights. He hadn't seen the incident that resulted in a black card (the second in a week) for his old sparring partner, Diarmuid Connolly. "It was off the ball, was it?" he inquires.

The circumstances are duly explained, with a leading question to the effect that defenders aren't always to blame.

"Ah sure, we're the bullies every week!" he again laughs.

"Diarmuid's had a tough couple of weeks maybe," he expands. "He's obviously under a watchful eye which is unfortunate for himself, a top player like that. But I suppose we have to be careful with how the black (card) rule is interpreted.

"If you look at the Brian Fenton incident (for which the Dub was booked) ... was that a black card, was that a third man tackle? Again, it's very finicky. I do feel sorry for the refs because they're making split-decision calls and either going to get it right or wrong, and they're going to get scrutinised one way or another."

As for why Kerry's manager felt compelled to speak last week as he did, he could only guess. But the brouhaha didn't impact on Mayo: they had to train regardless. And Keegan insists it was the same last September, in that contentious hiatus between drawn All-Ireland final and replay.

Certain comments from certain former Dublin footballers had the county of Mayo in collective high dudgeon over an alleged campaign to smear the Westport One and put replay referee Maurice Deegan on 'black' alert over his antics with Connolly.

"I'm sure there was stuff said about me. Obviously there was a hashtag!" he recalls, a reference to Twitter's comedic riposte, #ThingsLeeDid.

"But it's out of my control ... all I can control is how I perform on the pitch, and obviously I didn't finish the game that day which was unfortunate," he says of his roller-coaster replay, comprising a spectacular goal and black card all before half-time.

"I didn't think or read a lot about it ... if you get too bogged down with what's going on outside of your control, you're going to be in trouble."

Topsy-turvy

That's why now, after his All-Ireland club IFC heroics followed by another topsy-turvy league with Mayo, Keegan sees no merit in harking back to last year.

"To come back in (after Westport's win) I felt rejuvenated. There's no point dwelling on the past because the past is never going to help you. If there was a campaign, there was a campaign … again, I'm not judging."

Last weekend brought a new golfing twist on that familiar Mayo mantra, Is this the year? "Sergio Garcia has had 75 attempts at a Major. It's going to happen if you keep knocking," Keegan maintains.

"People always say it's a hard luck story, but it's not really. If you are not there, you are not going to win it.

"I think Mayo were a soft touch for many years. I think beating big teams was more of a kind of fluke for Mayo, 10-12 years ago or whatever. Now we are doing it more common, we are competing against the best teams week in and week out.

"That started with James Horan bringing that aura into Mayo, saying we can compete and we can be in Croke Park, week in and week out, and winning games. Fighting for one another and bringing that kind of hard edge to Mayo. If we are there again this year, all the better - we've put ourselves in a position to win it again.

"But to be honest," he concludes, "I want my Connacht medal back first before we look any further."

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