Saturday 29 April 2017

'I have no problem with what Diarmuid did' - Classy Lee Keegan reflects on crucial All Ireland final moment

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
Lee Keegan was 2016 Player of the Year
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

Lee Keegan has rubbished talk that Mayo are the subject of a hard luck story and insists that Dublin don't have a hoodoo over the men from the west.

The Mayo defender picked up the player of the year award at the weekend and speaking on Off The Ball on Newstalk tonight, says he finds the whole Mayo 'hard luck story' narrative farcical.

In a wide-ranging interview, Keegan also spoke of his respect and admiration for Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly, who he has had a fair share of high-profile battles with over the past few seasons.

"Obviously as the years have gone past, it (not winning Sam Maguire) doesn't get easier to be honest. People say it's a hard luck story with Mayo. I kind of find that a bit of a farce to be honest," said Keegan on Off The Ball..

"There's 30 teams out there that could be in the same position as us but they're not. We're there every year challenging. People say that there's a hoodoo with Dublin but we've beaten Dublin before in the semi-final and in league games.

"People tend to think it's this hard luck Mayo story. That's not the way we think. We're a very ambitious, young group that are striving to be at the top end of things."

Keegan and his Mayo team-mates came in for some stinging criticism after they lost the All Ireland final replay against Dublin with Sunday Independent columnist Joe Brolly describing Stephen Rochford's men as 'Celebrity Losers'.

But Keegan was quick to remind the Mayo critics that they are amateur players playing for the love of the game.

"Opinions are for people who get paid for it. We don't ultimately because we are out there trying to win Sam Maguire. That's what they get paid to do. I don't read into it, it's not what I do," added Keegan.

"I am sure with the younger guys now it could be tough on them because they are coming form an environment where social media within the game has become very high octane for people to deal with.

"There is a lot of stuff going on all the time, people talking about incidents, other factors like that. I do think it goes over the top. People forget we are amateur players. We don't get paid for what we do but we love what we do. For the media to judge us in that light is quite harsh."

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In the build up to the All Ireland final replay, several former Dublin players criticised Keegan for his robust approach to marking talisman Diarmuid Connolly, with many suggesting the referee keep tabs on what they believed was deliberate, persistent fouling.

The hashtag #ThingsLeeDid ultimately trended on Twitter as social media users came up with humerous situations where Keegan was 'at fault'.

Despite the attention, Keegan was able to block it out of his mind.

"I turned off my phone coming up to the All Ireland to be honest. You can turn off your phone but news travels fast. Of course I have heard the goings on but that is something that is completely out of my mind."

When asked if there was bad blood between himself and Connolly, Keegan gave an abrupt response.

"No, no, no. I have nothing but respect for Diarmuid Connolly as a player and what he has done in the game. If you look at his record it is one of the best out there. It's complete competition, we are there to win, we want to win. That's the nature of the way our games go."

A pivotal moment in the replay came in the first half when Keegan hauled down Connolly as the Dublin man stormed towards the Hill 16 end goal. Connolly fell to the ground and waved an imaginary card at referee Maurice Deegan when he rose to his feet.

Keegan received a black card and watched Mayo lose agonisingly by one point from the stands. That incident has not clouded Keegan's opinion of Connolly however.

"It's something I don't like as a sportsman myself. I don't like the whole imaginary card put on people, I see it in soccer and it gripes me aswell," said Keegan.

"That was his choice at the time, to try and influence the referee. I don't know if it was harsh or not, the referee had a split second to make a decision. I don't blame referees in the slightest at all because the job they are under is tough enough.

"I have no problem with what Diarmuid did, I don't know whether that influenced the referee or not and again we will never know.

"From a personal battle, the media like to make a bit more than what it is. It's great to have a personal dual with someone and the quality Diarmuid has. People nearly just expect me to let him play football for 70 minutes. Everyone would love to see that. I love watching players at the top of their game, doing things others can't do.

"When it comes down to competition and winning medals and winning big games, of course I am going to stop Diarmuid, that's my job."

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