Wednesday 20 November 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: Pulling, dragging and laughable conspiracy theories - when will this double act cop on?

Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly and Lee Keegan Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

A man could get enough of Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly. There have certainly been times when, as Ireland's leading modern dance cum all-in wrestling duo did their inimitable thing, I've been tempted to echo the words of Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice: "You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit."

Like many famous double acts before them, Keegan and Connolly have gone their separate ways, though there are rumours of a reunion gig at Croke Park in September. However, it is to their eternal credit that both players still manage to be extremely irritating on an individual basis.

Keegan wasn't even playing last week but he did make headlines by agreeing with a journalist who suggested that the Mayo defender's black card in the All-Ireland final replay was the result of a nefarious Dublin plot. This extremely silly conspiracy theory gravely insults replay referee Maurice Deegan, who actually did a decent job, by portraying him as a gullible and easily swayed moron. It suggests that the Irish sports media functions to a certain degree as the propaganda arm of the Dublin County Board and credits a few ex-Dublin players with Machiavellian powers of manipulation.

Worse still, it ignores the inconvenient truth that Keegan's drag-down of Connolly as the Dublin forward raced in on goal was as obvious a black card offence as you're going to get and one which would have been admitted as such had it not involved Mayo's best and most controversial player. If there was a conspiracy to get Keegan sent off, the manager involved was not Jim Gavin but Stephen Rochford. Think about it. Rochford's decision to replace the undisputed best goalkeeper in football, David Clarke, with error-prone Rob Hennelly seemed incomprehensible. But who was it that sent a kick-out straight to Connolly, enabling him to get goal-side of Keegan and draw the foul? I'm saying nothing, like. You need to keep an open mind.

The myth of the Keegan conspiracy serves the same purpose for Mayo fans as the myth of the stab in the back served for German patriots after World War I. It suggests that their team didn't lose fairly, which means they didn't really lose at all. The psychological need for such an explanation is obvious. Despite suffering disappointment after disappointment in big games, Mayo supporters have maintained extraordinary enthusiasm and fidelity. You can forgive them for clinging on to stuff like this. The rest of us have no excuse.

It was suggested last week that there was an 'orchestrated campaign' against Keegan because different ex-Dubs stars used the same phrase about him. The phrase? 'Pulling and dragging.' You know what? I think I used the same phrase myself. This may prove that I was also part of the same conspiracy, hatched in Meaghers of Ballybough to a soundtrack of The Wolfe Tones playing 14 Men. But the truth is that it was hard to write about the Keegan-Connolly clash without using the words 'pulling and dragging'. Pulling and dragging, with a bit of virtuoso winding-up thrown in, was exactly what Keegan had done to Connolly in their three previous meetings.

In the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final Keegan pinned Connolly to the ground off the ball, managing to goad his opponent into a retaliation which ended with a red card while escaping punishment himself. You win some, you lose some. Keegan is a great player who at times walks a tightrope. A few weeks ago he got another black card, in a league game against Tyrone. Another conspiracy, I suppose.

A couple of months back Connolly was lambasting the black card as though he hadn't been delighted to see Keegan get one last September. Seven days ago he produced one of the best possible arguments for retaining it when cynically hauling Gavin Crowley off the ball as the Kerryman tried to join an attack.

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Connolly also has a legion of defenders who consider him to be more sinned against than sinning, but the truth is that his career has been blighted by a tendency to do crassly stupid things on the pitch. The 'Connolly turns over a new leaf' article is a hoary old chestnut by now and one informed more by wishful thinking than evidence. As he notched up a second black card in as many games you wondered if Dublin have really done the St Vincent's player any good by enabling him to escape suspensions on technicalities in the past. He doesn't seem to be learning anything.

The irony is that Connolly really is the victim of a conspiracy. The evil mastermind behind it? Himself.

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