Sunday 11 December 2016

'I didn't pay players fifties to vote for me' - Lee Keegan insists Player of the Year award is not tarnished

Michael Verney

Published 17/11/2016 | 02:30

Lee Keegan was 2016 Player of the Year
Lee Keegan was 2016 Player of the Year

Regardless of the sport, the limelight is nearly always grabbed by attackers so Lee Keegan claiming this year's Footballer of the Year award is a triumph for all defenders.

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Often lauded for his attacking forays, a series of defensive masterclasses, particularly during his much publicised duels with Dublin ace Diarmuid Connolly, saw Keegan receive the stamp of approval from the majority of his peers.

Keegan brushes aside any criticism after he scooped the prestigious award.

"No (the award is not tarnished in any way because of reception in some quarters). I didn't make the players pick me. I didn't pay them fifties to vote for me. You know, like? That's up to other people to criticise me. I can't do anything about it, to be honest. I get recognised by my peers, so the system is there for them to pick me," says Keegan.

"Again, I'm obviously delighted to win it. It's something I haven't had time to think about with the club scene again.

"No, I don't see it as tarnished. People will have their opinions all the time and they're entitled to it. I can see why Dublin are a bit disappointed for getting it. Obviously look at the past records it's the winning team that usually gets the player of the year and, to be honest, I wouldn't begrudge Brian or Ciaran getting it because they had fantastic years for Dublin.

Lee Keegan of Mayo and Waterford’s Austin Gleeson, with Bobby Dowling (12) from Cabinteely Co Dublin, at the launch of the 2016 GAA-GPA Opel All-Stars jersey, which will help raise funds for the Childhood Cancer Foundation. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Lee Keegan of Mayo and Waterford’s Austin Gleeson, with Bobby Dowling (12) from Cabinteely Co Dublin, at the launch of the 2016 GAA-GPA Opel All-Stars jersey, which will help raise funds for the Childhood Cancer Foundation. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

"No, I don't think there's anything bad in it at all. To be honest, as I said, everyone is going to have an opinion about it. I'm sure Austin had the same. He got to a semi-final and still got it which I find a great achievement on his behalf.

"I was delighted for my family, my club, and obviously to be the first Mayo man to win it. That's the way I look at it."

It might not have been glamorous, the dark arts never are, but facing someone of Connolly's calibre is a survival of the fittest, and Keegan acknowledges that victory is taken by any means necessary.

"He's a quality player but I don't see why I should let Diarmuid run around the pitch and do what he does best. If I did sure he'd be kicking six or seven points a game and I'd be looking like a dud out there," Keegan says.

"I'm a defender, I'm going to try and negate his influence as much as possible. Believe me, I love watching him play when he's in top form but I'm just there to do a job for Mayo and if I'm told to mark him or not mark him, that's just what I have to do.

"Of course, it probably did become a bit personal from other people but from our point of view we just want to do what we can do best for our teams. He was the lucky one this year that slotted away the winning penalty and I shook his hand afterwards.

Lee Keegan, left, of Mayo congratulates Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park
Lee Keegan, left, of Mayo congratulates Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park

"We have nothing but respect for each other because at the end of the day we're there to win games and there to win medals and I'm sure he'd say the same thing if he was in this position."

Social media hype and the trending #ThingsLeedid on Twitter left his phone "hopping from time to time" but he makes no apologies for his style of play and will not be altering it as he aims to help end Mayo's All-Ireland famine in 2017.

"Maybe my name was being targeted for certain aspects of my game but I have no intention of stopping the way I play. I play hard. I play as fair as possible. I am there to win at all costs," the Westport wing-back says.

Keegan, 27, doesn't argue with his black card dismissal in this year's heartbreaking replay loss to the Dubs and although he can see why defender's are always the ones in the "firing line" with officials, he doesn't like it.

"Forwards are recognised for their scoring ability-wise and setting up scores and whatever. We just look like the bullies and the thugs because we're the ones stopping them," he says.

"Every supporter wants to see the forwards running around, kicking these beautiful scores and that but we have to do the ugly work and the uncompromised stuff where we have to stop these players because if we don't there's no hope for us at all either.

"The way the game has gone, the pace of it is insane. We just have to do what we have to do. Dublin do it so well. They have six backs that would do anything to win games.

"As defenders, you just have to do what other people are not willing to do. I've no beef with that at all, I'm very comfortable in saying that because I am a defender and when it comes to winning games I have to stop a forward. You saw Colm Boyle during the year, he took a black card once or twice that had to be done. That's just the way it is. You win at all costs."

After a stellar season there's little room for improvement in Keegan's game but with Sam Maguire still missing, he'll keep striving for more.

"Definitely one of my best years but I still have one more better to come yet."

Irish Independent

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