'It's more like a rugby zone' - Mayo's Lee Keegan admits concern for future over concussions
Lee Keegan has expressed concern about the prospect of sustaining another concussion and how it could, potentially, shape his future in the game.
Keegan is due to return to competitive action for Mayo in a qualifier against Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds next week, almost three months since a heavy challenge from Tyrone's Padraig McNulty left him with a dislocated shoulder that required surgery.
Westport man Keegan also suffered concussion in the collision, a third in his career that he admits is now giving him food for thought.
"It probably is a bit of a concern. The way I play the game and the way the position is, you're constantly in contact," he explained.
"But if you go out thinking of that, you're going to pull out of challenges and so, I suppose, it can be just bad luck as well. If it happens again we'll have to really sit down and maybe assess where I'm going after that. I'm not getting any younger."
The nature of McNulty's challenge, which resulted in a red card, left the 2016 footballer of the year "a bit disappointed".
"It's one of those ones. It's probably hard to pull out of a challenge like that," Keegan acknowledged.
"He didn't have to jump into it because I was wide open as it was. I was a bit disappointed, from that point of view.
"It was a concern initially. I did suffer quite badly that night with headaches and that. To be fair to Sean Moffatt [the Mayo doctor], he put all the correct protocols in place for myself. That was another part of the reason not to be rushing back, not just the shoulder but if I got another belt in the head, then you're looking at serious trouble down the line."
Keegan was concussed during the 2016 Allianz League match against Cork - Stephen Rochford's first competitive game in charge - after a collision with Eoin Cadogan but played on for a few minutes before being helped off.
The McNulty impact was "far worse", he revealed.
"Because the dislocation was there, I think that took away from a bit of the concussion because I was in such pain when it initially happened."
Mayo's reputation for being physical precedes them at this stage and Keegan likens Gaelic football to a "war zone" now, making such hits much harder to absorb.
"It's more like a rugby zone. The hits are heavier and the tackles bigger," he said. "Lads are bigger now and in better shape than when I first played. The gym wasn't too interesting for me when I started but now it's huge. The game is definitely a bit of a war zone over the past few years and it's evolved into a type of rugby mentality 'kill or be killed'."
The possibility of wearing protective gear has been broached in his Mayo dressing-room but it's not something he would personally favour.
"I have asked is there a need to wear it. Really there is no benefit for it for myself because it's (shoulder) been well repaired up by the medical people," said Keegan who returned to full contact training two weeks ago.
"And strapping, again, I don't like doing that because subconsciously I'm thinking maybe there's something wrong with me.
"I wouldn't be in favour of it but some guys in our squad have talked about it. In terms of shoulders, it's a male thing, an ego thing as well, that you don't want to wear anything, you want to be manly, that kind of alpha male thing. I wouldn't see a lot of guys probably too worried about it but definitely, it's something that has come up in our group."
Mayo's discipline has cost them in big games in recent years but what's also noticeable are the number of players sent off against them too.
"We've become quite physical over the last couple of years. Maybe we've annoyed a couple of teams with that 'being in your face' attitude.
"So maybe teams are adopting that kind of philosophy and seeing if they can get a reaction. Unfortunately, we have reacted on numerous occasions. Look at Dublin last year, Donie Vaughan and Diarmuid [O'Connor] this year, Cillian [O'Connor] during the Galway league game.
"Teams recognise this now and get in your face and talk to you and get at you. If you get a reaction, you're going to rely on that 100pc.
"Every top team knows that small bit of weakness and they're going to pounce every time."
Keegan is, as ever, confident that Mayo can pick up the pieces from their most recent Galway defeat, their fifth in sequence as he reminds you. But they have issues to address.
"Stephen [Rochford] said that we needed to get our heads in order. Sometimes we tend to worry too much about injuries and lads not playing and red cards.
"Our discipline has cost us in huge games over the past couple of years. Now, I did say that Diarmuid's [red card against Galway] didn't impact but it's more that other teams recognise the discipline issue and target certain guys for red cards, black cards."