The answer to Mayo’s gaelic football prayers?

It takes more than guts to come back. Mayo fall guys in All-Ireland finals usually stay fallen. Dermot Geraghty never recovered from 2004. Dermot Flanagan admittedly was on his way out in 1997. But when 2012 befell Kevin Keane he had time on his side.

The answer to Mayo’s gaelic football prayers?

The record books will show that, unlike Geraghty and Nallen, the then 22-year-old played out the game that day.

However, his assignment on Michael Murphy was considered a failure from the third minute the Donegal captain rounded him and crashed the ball to the net.

Tomorrow is his first start against Donegal since that fateful day but at least Keane has had one vengeful act since.

Like Tipperary’s Benny Dunne in the 2010 All-Ireland final a year after being sent off for striking Tommy Walsh, he attained a morsel of redemption coming off the bench to score a point in the 2013 quarter-final.

But make no mistake: The real redemption has taken place this year. After 2012, Keane started just one further championship game under James Horan. That came against New York, while he has made four further summer appearances as a substitute. In two seasons, he made seven league starts. The 2013 Division 1 semi-final was the second of two consecutive starts for him but Paul Mannion was his undoing that day.

But having started all six of Mayo’s outings so far this spring and set to begin tomorrow’s game at the edge of the square, it seems Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes are convinced the Westport man is their full-back for the championship.

In the opening games against Kerry and Tyrone, he was among the side’s cohort of best performers and his form since has been encouraging.

“The full-back line were under pressure against Cork last week but he’s had an excellent league,” says former full-back David Heaney, a player who knows what it’s like to move on from September blues.

“He was more or less a rookie in 2012 and it was just unfortunate that he was exposed at that stage. He has since shown the player he is. He’s a big, strong, tough full-back, which Mayo need.

“I think he’s a great chance of staying there for the year. One area where he might be lacking is pace but his positional sense should see him through in most games.”

Before Horan, Mayo would have traded on their purity only to see it come up short against wilier opposition.

Although Horan succeeded in instilling a cuteness to the county team, his work never really extended to the full-back line.

“Mayo have always had good footballers in the full-back line but you need a bit of a dog like the McGees in Donegal,” says Heaney in reference to Keane. “Forwards fear it that bit more going in against one of the McGees.

“The same for Rory O’Carroll even though he’s a good, clean footballer. He’s tough as well. Peter Crowley, Marc Ó Sé, Shane Enright — they’re all hard players.

“The big thing with Mayo is that they have to hold onto the leads. If they have hard, tougher men in that full-back line it will make them more difficult to beat, definitely.”

The question is what happens to Ger Cafferkey now Keane has taken up his mantle. Cafferkey himself has endured a couple of difficult encounters the last couple of years. He wasn’t solely to blame for Bernard Brogan’s goals in the 2013 All-Ireland final but that’s not how the narrative goes.

Limerick last year was as difficult a game as he has possibly ever encountered, which left supporters wondering if he would make good on his postponed plans to travel this year.

“Ger is definitely worth his place,” insists Heaney. “Ger is comfortable only in the full-back line as far as I can see. He’s a fantastic man-marker but it’s been said he will get a nose-bleed if he gets over the 45.

“Ger is your traditional full-back: He’ll win ball and he’ll pass it off. It kind of restricts him slightly because he’s either in the full-back line or he’s nowhere.

“The good thing with Kevin is he can move to the half-back line and Tom Cunniffe can play both lines too but I’d like to see Kevin and Ger in the full-back line with Keith Higgins this year and use Tom and Chris Barrett further out but then there is a logjam for places on the half-back line. It’s a good complaint.”

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