Keegan was black-carded in the first half of Mayo’s one-point defeat and manager Stephen Rochford said he was “under no illusions that there was an agenda out there” ahead of the game to influence Deegan.
Former Dublin players Alan Brogan, Ger Brennan, and Paul Clarke had used the same term “pulling and dragging” in newspaper articles to describe how wing-back Keegan had been getting to grips with Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly.
The situation was highlighted again last week, when Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice claimed ahead of the league final with Dublin that “there was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan that was effective”.
Asked if he agreed with Fitzmaurice that the alleged campaign had worked, Keegan said he wasn’t sure.
“Possibly, yeah,” said the reigning Footballer of the Year. “Refs are under a huge amount of scrutiny and pressure to perform, as well, so I can never blame just a referee.
“Maurice deemed it a correct decision and I can never argue against a referee on the day of a game because, again, he’s under so much pressure to perform, as well as us. So, Maurice Deegan didn’t stop us from winning an All-Ireland, we stopped ourselves. We had a chance to level the game in the last minute and we didn’t take it, unfortunately.”
The Westport man scored a terrific goal in the final replay before being dismissed for what Deegan deemed a deliberate drag down of Connolly. Keegan said he was aware before the game he was being discussed in the media and that Mayo supporters had ridiculed the comments using the social media hashtag #ThingsLeeDid.
“There was stuff said about me, there was even a hashtag made up in response,” he said. “But it’s out of my control. All I can control is how I perform on the pitch and, obviously, I didn’t finish the game that day which was unfortunate.
“I didn’t think or read a lot about it, because if I did, then I’m not really focusing on what I’m going to do on All-Ireland final day, which should be to win the Sam Maguire. If you get too bogged down with what’s going on outside of your control, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Keegan responded to the setback by helping Westport to All-Ireland club intermediate success at Croke Park in February.
He said it was a sweet win that has given him renewed belief that this year Mayo can land a first All-Ireland title since 1951.
Keegan revealed he considered what it would be like to win the All-Ireland with Mayo, while he was walking up to receive the cup.
“For a few moments, yes, I did,” said Keegan. “It was nice to walk up the Hogan Stand steps and lift the All-Ireland club trophy, a really proud moment. Obviously, club and county are a small bit different, but it gave me that glimmer of hope. September did dwell in my mind for a few seconds, that kind of excitement about what’s possible.
“It gave me that kind of rejuvenation to come back in with Mayo, a confident feeling that ‘we can do this’. If we look at Westport the last couple of years, they were kind of no-hopers, so it gave me that view that, you know, anything can happen in the upcoming season. Don’t limit yourself to what you can do with Mayo. Be optimistic and think Connacht medal, All-Ireland medal. There’s no reason why you can’t do it.”
Keegan said Dublin’s loss to Kerry in last weekend’s league decider, their first defeat in a league or championship game in over two years, has also given Mayo hope for the summer.
“It kind of opens the door that Dublin are beatable,” he said. “Mayo still had the belief that we could beat Dublin and we came very close in the last couple of years, though ultimately didn’t cross the line.
“I suppose Kerry have done something that hasn’t been done in a long time, by beating Dublin, and it’s given optimism and excitement going into the summer months. There is a real feeling that the championship is wide open.
“I’m sure Dublin are going to close that door pretty quickly with a strong Leinster campaign, but it still gives everyone that chance.”