Lee Keegan: Diarmuid Connolly will still shine in Championship

Footballer of the year Lee Keegan has backed old adversary Diarmuid Connolly to return to the Championship with a bang in August after accepting his 12-week ban.

Dublin GAA, making their first comment on the Connolly case, confirmed in the wake of an unsuccessful plea to the Central Hearings Committee (CHC) that they will not exercise their right to an appeal.

It means the All-Star forward will be banned until the end of August when Dublin, should they win their next three games, will be preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final tie. Connolly is already playing catch-up on his colleagues having made just two competitive starts for Dublin this year and will face a major battle to be match-sharp for a winner takes all, ultra intensive semi-final in high summer.

Mayo All-Star Keegan, who has endured a number of high-profile clashes with Connolly in recent seasons, said it’s not the end of the world for the Dubliner.

“He can train and play in-house games so he can keep fit and Dublin have enough players for two county teams,” said Keegan. “The level of talent and competitiveness in there will keep him match-sharp so I don’t think he’ll be too worried, from that point of view.”

Connolly was red carded in the drawn semi-final of 2015 for appearing to strike Keegan though this was rescinded following a Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) hearing. The situation was reversed in last year’s final replay when Keegan was black carded for a challenge on Connolly.

The Westport man said he had seen footage of Connolly’s clash with linesman Ciaran Branagan, which prompted the retrospective disciplinary action, a number of times.

“It’s a tough one,” he said. “With the likes of Evan Comerford and Kieran McGeeney being punished too, it’s probably hard to overlook. But we all want to see Diarmuid Connolly playing in the summer because we all want to see him showcase his skill-set and his athleticism for Dublin.”

Keegan admitted the case has opened his eyes to the hefty punishment that awaits any player who is found guilty of minor physical interference with a match official.

“If I’m brutally honest, I hadn’t a clue (of the punishment),” he said. “So I know not to touch them anymore, even if he’s giving me a yellow card I’ll be keeping my hands down by my side. Again, it’s unfortunate, this situation, because we want to be looking forward to big games in the summer rather than talking about an incident like this.”

Keegan has his own issues to contend with at the moment following Mayo’s Connacht championship loss to Galway at the weekend. The first-half dismissal of his long-time defensive colleague Keith Higgins for striking out at Damien Comer appeared to be decisive in a one-point game.

“Of course Keith knows himself it was just a moment of, probably, madness,” said Keegan. “He will be disappointed but, like the rest of us, he has to dust himself off and move on. It was very out of character but he is one of our leaders and a guy that I always looked up to.”

The Westport man admitted Mayo are lacking the punch and energy from their half-back line, of which he is a key member, which used to haul them across the line in big games. I just think teams have copped on a bit more to us, and not just us alone, the half-back line is a major platform for a lot of teams to start their attacks. Probably at the moment we are not getting enough in terms of scores. I think Paddy Durcan is the only one who has got scores, the rest of us haven’t scored yet.

“I suppose, as defenders, we’d want to put a bit more pressure on the forwards to score too. We are defenders, it is our primary job to stop conceding scores.”

Meanwhile, Keegan described the recent criticism of Aidan O’Shea by pundit Bernard Flynn as “utter madness”. Meath legend Flynn was critical of O’Shea for apparently signing autographs and posing for photographs while team-mates were in a huddle after a pre-Championship challenge against Meath.

“It was utter madness, how can something so small get out of hand like that?” he said. “It was rubbish some of the stuff that came out.”

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