Keegan eyes happy end to emotional year

Lee Keegan in jovial mood as he is interviewed by the press after squad training in Perth. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

It mightn’t have worked out the way he intended but Lee Keegan at least cleared his name.

That mattered. He maintains what he did to Kerry’s Johnny Buckley in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final was no sending-off matter.

Before that incident, when he appeared to kick out at the Kerry forward, Keegan was not just an All Star candidate but a player of the year contender too. After it, despite his provisional suspension being overturned, he was broken and beaten.

The defeat hurts more but the personal pain was torture too, not knowing for days if he was going to be able to play. Did it affect his performance in the replay?

“In my own head, I just didn’t focus on the game (the week before the replay). I just worried about the group. I just assumed I wasn’t playing. That was my mentality up until the time I found out (he was cleared to play).

“It was a tough week for me personally — I had to take a lot on the chin. I still think I was innocent and I proved that. It was a hard week and it was probably a lot worse, the way it finished. That’s all I can say about that.”

Mayo’s season? He’s parked analysing it until next month. “It’s hard, I do find it hard to reflect. I always say we need that bit of luck and we never got it again this year. Kerry got their few bits and pieces and fully deserved beating us. They won on the day because they took their chances.”

Including Pearce Hanley, Keegan is one of five Mayo players in the International Rules squad. It’s provided them with something to take their mind off.

“We’ve been there or thereabouts for the last couple of years and this is something I can think we have great pride in doing. After the disappointments the last couple of years, it’s great to have this kind of focus and mindset to go into something like this, a huge challenge.

“Last year’s challenge didn’t tell us too much but this year after the long year it’s something to really look forward to and test our wits against top professionals.”

In Wednesday’s last training session in Patersons Stadium, selector Tony Scullion gathered the group together and explained just how much beating Australia meant to him as a player in 1990. The former Derry defender’s voice boomed around the stadium: “Winning an All-Ireland and an International Rules series — the two best occasions of my fucking career. I can’t separate them.

“Now of the 25 lads, only seven of you have won an All-Ireland. Eighteen of you have an opportunity on Saturday to have the same feeling that it is to win an All-Ireland with your county.”

Keegan is of course among the 18 who don’t now have a Celtic Cross. He gets a great kick from Scullion’s motivational speaking. “I hope he’s not tired for the weekend! Tony is a legend in his own right. We know that it’s a great honour and privilege to represent our country.

“Tony has done it so he knows what it’s like. it’s great to have a man like him around, a four-time All Star and All-Ireland winner. He takes it all very seriously.”

As does his fellow Mayo man Hanley, who have easily assimilated himself into the group of Gaelic footballers “It’s great to be playing with a man like him. He’s giving us tips about the Australians and the game in general. I suppose as a professional we are looking up to him a small bit.

“You wouldn’t notice any difference (between him and the rest of the squad physically). That’s the way the game has gone. You look at the likes of Michael Murphy, Aidan Walsh... big, powerful men. We’re at the same level as the Australians... elite level.”


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