Friday 23 August 2019

'He is a cold-blooded killer' - Lee Keegan on why he loves Tiger Woods, hates idea of pay-for-play and 2019 ambitions

John West Ambassador and Mayo Footballer Lee Keegan in attendance at the launch of the 2019 John West Féile at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
John West Ambassador and Mayo Footballer Lee Keegan in attendance at the launch of the 2019 John West Féile at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

WHEN Tiger Woods rolled back the years and crushed his opponents on the back nine in the final round of the Masters in Augusta, nobody was more pleased than Mayo footballer Lee Keegan.

The 2016 Footballer of the Year and four-time All Star is a big golf fan and Tiger’s cold-blooded competitive instincts resonate with him.

"In the final round of the Masters he knew he had the upper hand before he played. Some of the golfers playing that day are still fans of his and that worked for him because they don’t have the killer edge he has," says Keegan.

"I like to learn off Tiger because he has a lot of traits that can be used in a team environment. Golf is a lonely game, but he is cold-blooded killer and that’s what I love about him.

"I find it fascinating and I try to bring it into my own game. Maybe it doesn’t apply so much to actually playing GAA, but from a mentality point of view it is brilliant."

Keegan finally won a national final with Mayo in last month’s league decider, though he is quick to point out that he also won an All-Ireland intermediate club championship medal with Westport in 2017.

He is conscious, though, that not all sporting stories get a happy ending.

"Sport is unforgiving – that’s the brutality of sport. You don’t get what you deserve, but sometimes you have to make you own luck as well. I’ve always said that when you are good enough you win it and that is the reality.

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"Sometimes there is no fairy tale. But I enjoyed the fairy tale of Tiger winning the Masters."

Though Tiger is a multi-millionaire many times over, Keegan has no wish to be paid to pay.

"I hope not," he says when asked whether he thinks his generation of players will be the last to play for free.

"I love the ethos of the GAA, the way it is to be honest. You get so much more respect and pride when you put on the jersey on behalf of our family and where you’re from. It would be crying shame if the GAA went professional.

"The joy and excitement that the All-Ireland win brought to our club is still talked about. I try and stay well away from it, but these are the stories that will last a lifetime. You can’t buy them, they’re priceless.

"If money comes into it everything willj ust become a sideshow over money and who is getting what. God knows we would probably have transfers," he suggests.

While Keegan acknowledges that the top inter-county players now train as if they’re professionals, it is a choice on their part.

"It’s a total choice. Even at club level, there is probably training four nights a week. Clubs with aspirations of winning a senior title in their county, that’s what you have to do. But nobody is putting a gun to your head.

"Why would anybody want to be paid to pay in Croke Park? You just look at the stadium and say wow. I love it enough just to want to get out there to play for my club or county. I would like to think that most players think the same way I do.

"As county players we are well looked after. In our set-up we get our gear, our expenses, whatever we need. We are very lucky and we have our jobs so we are getting paid as well."

Never in his wildest dreams did Keegan imagine that he would spend more Sunday afternoons in the Sunday Game studio in Croke Park last summer than kicking a ball down on the pitch. But Mayo’s shock early exit from the All-Ireland series meant he had time on his hands in July, August and September for the first time in his career.

"When you’re involved it is pretty much tunnel vision, but watching games, especially in Croke Park, was a learning experience. You see everything that is going on, but it was disappointing as well that we weren’t out there playing.

"Still, it was an enjoyable experience and I got a chance to meet up with players such as Michael Murphy and Sean Cavanagh and exchange ideas.I think they (RTE) were trying to torture me a small bit by having me sit beside Joe Brolly in the studio!"

Mayo begin another All-Ireland campaign this afternoon when New York host them in Gaelic Park in the Bronx. Thousands of Mayo fans are making the trip across the Atlantic for the encounter.

"The pitch is very tight and it’s very much a party zone in the ground, but from the players’ viewpoint we have to be focussed.

"New York got to within a few points of both Roscommon and Leitrim in the last couple of years so we have to have our heads really screwed on.

"We went to London in 2010 and nearly got pipped because we didn’t take them seriously. That’s the way the GAA has gone at the moment. If we think ‘holiday’ it will become a nightmare," he suggests.

The newly crowned league champions won’t lose today, but their season will be defined by whether they are still playing football come August.

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