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Friday 23 February 2018

To beat the Dubs just once is key for Lee

Keegan: Blues never blinked once ... the sign of an 'awesome team'

Kerry footballer Jack Barry, former Dublin hurler David O’Callaghan, Dublin hurler Joey Boland (owner of Sports Physio Ireland), Mayo footballer Lee Keegan and Wexford hurler Jack Guiney at yesterday’s launch of the new Sports Physio Ireland clinic in Dublin 2. For more visit www.sportsphysioireland.com
Kerry footballer Jack Barry, former Dublin hurler David O’Callaghan, Dublin hurler Joey Boland (owner of Sports Physio Ireland), Mayo footballer Lee Keegan and Wexford hurler Jack Guiney at yesterday’s launch of the new Sports Physio Ireland clinic in Dublin 2. For more visit www.sportsphysioireland.com
Mayo’s Lee Keegan and Dublin’s Ciarán Kilkenny in action during last September’s All-Ireland SFC final in Croke Park

Lee Keegan has a wonderfully straight-forward answer to a very simple question.

What needs to happen for Mayo to win the All-Ireland?

"Beat Dublin!"

If only it were that simple; Keegan, of all people, knows that it isn't.

The 2016 Footballer of the Year has yet to kick a ball for Mayo this spring and that's unlikely to happen until the business end of the Allianz League, as he continues his recovery from surgery last November to both of his hips.

"They shaved between five and eight millimetres off each bone, and there was a bit of cartilage damage and there was a tear in each as well," he explains. "People laughed when I said I was only 28."

And yet it's now a common inter-county complaint, which tells its own story.

He had his three-month referral recently and the news was all positive. Keegan is back on the pitch running and hoping to "get some minutes in the league", while stressing that he doesn't want to rush things and suffer a setback with D-Day against Galway on May 13.

Presumption

But while their record against the Tribesmen over the past two summers is enough to banish any hint of Mayo presumption, it's impossible to talk football with Keegan without bringing up the Dubs.

"I suppose if we'd beaten Dublin once, we could have beaten them two or three times and have two or three All-Irelands," he suggests, speaking at yesterday's brand relaunch for Sports Physio Ireland, the Dublin-based sports injury practice.

"But because Dublin are so good, we don't. We're looking at the tiniest of margins trying to beat them ... and that's up to us to find those margins. I don't have the answer to that yet - the league game (in Castlebar on February 24) might tell us a bit more about where we're at, and where Dublin are at.

"Dublin are operating at another level again straight away this season so that's what we know about them to this point. I think until the core group of us actually beat Dublin, which we haven't done since 2012, then that's going to be the biggest factor for us."

And yet, it's fair to argue, no one has rattled Dublin's cage so consistently often.

"I think once we get over the line once with them, then we're going to have that belief to say, 'You know what, if we get them in another big game we know we can beat them'. And we believe we can beat them, that's not our issue," the four-time All Star stresses.

"It's that we have to beat them - that's where our problems have come from. We have put ourselves in brilliant positions to do it; look at last year, two points up with seven minutes to go, but still didn't get across the line because Dublin were there, they've done it before, they have that know-how to do it.

Grinding

"Whereas I think if it was another team we probably would have beaten them - but it was Dublin and they know how to win games and that's why I respect them so highly, because they're so good at grinding out games when they shouldn't."

Keegan has suffered four SFC defeats to Dublin - the semi-final replay of 2015 and three All-Ireland finals in '13, '16 (another replay) and last year.

Last September, he concedes, felt like the biggest blow of all because they had played so well to put themselves in a winning position with the clock ticking. Keegan's 54th minute goal edged them back in front; almost ten minutes later they still led by two.

"Scoring a goal is a massive factor but, when you looked at the Dublin lads, they never blinked," he recalls, "which is the sign of an absolute awesome team.

"That's credit to Jim Gavin ... they're just grinding out games in the last 10 minutes which is the sign of a class team. So yeah, we're definitely putting ourselves in positions to beat Dublin but I keep saying it, until we beat them..."

Is it psychological?

"I don't think it's a mental thing as such," he maintains. "The bench is referenced quite often. You had the likes of Diarmuid Connolly coming on last year and kicking a monster score; he wins the winning free. You have Kevin McManamon coming on.

"It's a sign again of Jim Gavin," he expands. "Like, our six forwards are roasting the Dublin backs but he never changed it up. He changed his forwards instead and then they made the biggest contribution in the second-half.

"Then I suppose when the game got so chaotic, when it was 14 against 14, Dublin seemed to thrive on that and you had a lot more space to cover. Their forwards are just so good and you look at (Brian) Fenton driving through as well. They're just awesome players to watch and trying to stop them is a different thing again."

Even though Keegan hasn't kicked a ball for Mayo since, he hasn't exactly steered out of the headlines. First there was the post-match furore over that identified flying object, namely his GPS, that failed to distract Dean Rock from nailing that match-winning free.

Then, in the midst of hip surgery recovery, he felt compelled to go public and rubbish false rumours flying around Mayo that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

"I'm a bit of a feather-head in normal day, I let everything kind of pass by me," he says. "Social media, I wouldn't be the biggest man either. I didn't pay too much attention to what was going on until my partner came home one day and said, 'You know, there's a bit of a thing going about your health at the moment'.

"It's very disappointing to hear stuff like that. I felt I had to say something - just for family abroad, friends and stuff like that. It was something I was very disappointed to hear because I know families in Westport, they do suffer ... and for them to be coming up talking to Mum saying, 'If you need advice or anything like that'...

"It was probably tough for her and, again, you don't want your family going through that kind of stuff. For me, it's fine. I let it over my head."

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