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'Two lads would be huge for the Dubs' - Keegan

Horan putting pressure on Mayo players to perform in every game says Lee Keegan

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FOCUS: Mayo footballer Lee Keegan at the launch of the 2019 John West Féile at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

FOCUS: Mayo footballer Lee Keegan at the launch of the 2019 John West Féile at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

FOCUS: Mayo footballer Lee Keegan at the launch of the 2019 John West Féile at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

It's mid-April but big, season-defining themes loom large for Lee Keegan.

James Horan. Sam Maguire. Even Diarmuid Connolly.

He is back in Croke Park in a promotional capacity for the first time since the League final and Mayo's Mardi Gras reaction to beating Kerry therein.

Most of the Lee Keegan interview boxes have been dutifully ticked.

Yes, he says, Mayo have "a spring in their step" after capturing the League but he politely refuses to lend credence to the notion that they cracked any psychological barricade by winning a national final in Croke Park two weeks ago.

James Horan, he adds, is "more scary" than he was in his last incarnation as Mayo manager in the ruthlessness of his approach to team selection and hair-trigger dropping of players who don't perform.

Naturally, Keegan agrees, Mayo would have liked to have performed better against Dublin and Galway in their League meetings.

"We're looking at game plans," he explains, "implementing different changes. Very disappointing, we came up here against Dublin, targeted to win the game.

Robust

"There were significant amount of changes in the squad. We just didn't get a performance that night, that's the reality of it."

Keegan adds: "Even with the Galway game, we played a bit better, not to the standard we need to beat Galway."

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RETURN: Diarmuid Connolly (left) in action for St Vincent’s against St Brigid’s last week

RETURN: Diarmuid Connolly (left) in action for St Vincent’s against St Brigid’s last week

RETURN: Diarmuid Connolly (left) in action for St Vincent’s against St Brigid’s last week

Anything else?

(Pause)

"Ehm…what about Diarmuid Connolly?"

Because naturally, no Lee Keegan interview can be considered complete until after the Diarmuid Connolly question is asked.

In the past, the queries have been about Keegan's unapologetically robust methods of marking the aforementioned former and possibly future Dublin footballer.

Once he was asked about - and confirmed - a story that appeared in a local Mayo newspaper that Connolly had sent his seemingly annual adversary a present of a pair of football boots made by his former employers close to Christmas in 2016.

Now, obviously, it's about the potential for a return for and perhaps even reunion with the mercurial St Vincent's man.

Keegan half grins, half grimaces.

"I hear he's playing centre back!" he laughs.

"Yeah and you see Rory O'Carroll back playing at the weekend and a lot of stories have been on them, so they are big plusses for Dublin if they do come back.

"Yeah, it'll add to the stories anyway, what's going around Dublin at the moment.

"Listen, they are definitely two players that would be serious contenders for any team, so to have them back playing is a huge plus.

"But," he says, adding the inevitable disclaimer, "I can't be worrying about those guys. I try and worry about our own club at the moment and we got a draw at the weekend.

"They are for Dublin to worry about, we'll worry about our own players back home."

Clearly though, there is less to worry about on that front there was was last year. Cillian O'Connor made his comeback from the injury that saw him miss the entire League for Ballintubber last weekend.

Purring

Cian Hanley came on and scored a goal for Ballaghadereen.

Meanwhile, Robbie Hennelly and Diarmuid O'Connor have hit peak career form while all of Mayo is purring about the near future potential of Matthew Ruane and Fionn McDonagh.

"As much as we want to dwell and look back and say, "we won a national title", if you're not in the frame of mind to be looking forward to New York and playing well, you're not going to get picked," he stresses.

"That's kinda the mentality we're looking at. Guys need to be performing.

"That has been installed in the squad. Look at some of the lads who have come in - Matthew Ruane has dominated midfield with Aidan O'Shea.

"Even ourselves in the half-back line, we need to be performing well.

The last two weeks with club, if we weren't performing, James is on it straight away saying 'I need ye' to up the game'.

"Time will tell."