Wednesday 17 January 2018

Keegan happy to put county rivalries aside

Mayo defender says he has had 'no problems' with Dubs star Diarmuid

EirGrid Irish International Rules vice-captain, Mayo’s Lee Keegan
EirGrid Irish International Rules vice-captain, Mayo’s Lee Keegan

Lee Keegan has described the initial experience of sitting in an Ireland dressing-room with some of the players against whom he has fought pretty fractious battles for Mayo as "nerve wracking" but stressed that this year's Eirgrid International Rules panel have mixed comfortably.

The Mayo man, who will serve as vice-captain for Joe Kernan when Ireland play Australia in Croke Park on Saturday week, admitted: "there is always a bit of awkwardness between players," from rival counties, adding: "it is hard, the first three or four weeks is quite nerve-wracking but once you get over that you look forward to the weeks ahead."

Diarmuid Connolly, a frequent starring partner of Keegan, was the latest call-up to Kernan's squad, having not trained with the group until this week.

The St Vincent's man was sent off in this year's All-Ireland semi-final draw (later overturned) with Mayo for striking Keegan, though he stressed that there are "no problems" between then pair since Connolly's arrival.

"We're representing our country," Keegan outlined. "What we do with our county colours is totally separate to what we do we do in Ireland. That's my main thing. I'm not apprehensive at all. We're both adults at this stage. We both know how to deal with it."

Naturally, Keegan added, there were some tensions but nothing that hasn't been overcome. "Not even from a Mayo/Dublin point of view but you can be quite nervous coming into an environment you're not used to," he said. "Playing for your county is quite easy because you're close together.

"You're playing with the best players in the country so you have to enjoy that as well."

Kernan echoed those sentiments and said that county boundaries had long since ceased to exist in his dressing-room.

"We hear these myths about 'oh, I hate him and he's not good'.

"When they cross that white line they just want to play football. And truth be told we are all the same.

"It is easy to say stuff like 'ah, I don't like him over there' but when you are in the pack together it's different."

Meanwhile, Keegan has described the loss of Cillian O'Connor for next year's League as "a huge blow," for Mayo.

This year's Championship top scorer underwent an knee operation on Monday and is set to miss six months of action.

"He's been struggling for fitness for the last few months," Keegan explained.

"Obviously him being out is a huge void to fill but it's a great incentive for the younger guys coming through next year."

Keegan also admitted that there now existed even greater pressure on Mayo to succeed in 2016 after the players' forced removal of last year's management team.

"Yeah, probably. But we just go in every year … obviously we're looking to the one goal and that's Sam Maguire," he explained.

"So there will be added pressure on us. But I think we're capable of handling it," Keegan added. "We have some big characters there and good leaders."

IRELAND (squad v Australia): Niall Morgan (Tyrone), Colm Begley (Laois), Gary Brennan (Clare), Bernard Brogan (Dublin), Eoin Cadogan (Cork), Mattie Donnelly (Tyrone), Eoin Doyle (Kildare), Peter Harte (Tyrone), Darren Hughes (Monaghan), Lee Keegan (Mayo), Paul Kerrigan (Cork), Jack McCaffrey (Dublin), Ciarán McDonald (Tipperary), Philip McMahon (Dublin), Conor McManus (Monaghan), Rory O'Carroll (Dublin), John O'Loughlin (Laois), Aidan O'Shea (Mayo), Michael Quinn (Longford), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin), Paul Cribbin (Kildare), Paddy McBrearty (Donegal). Stand-by: Paddy O'Rourke (Meath), Killian Clarke (Cavan), Ray Connellan (Westmeath), Kieran Hughes (Monaghan), Gearóid McKiernan (Cavan), Dessie Mone (Monaghan), Colm O'Neill (Cork), Enda Smith (Roscommon).

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