Lee Keegan as committed as ever to Mayo’s cause

Vastly experienced defender looking forward to locking horns with Kildare as Horan’s side look to book final place

Lee Keegan resorts to humour when asked are thoughts of retirement preying on his mind to any extent.

“I’ve loads of campaigns left – sure I’m a spring lamb! There’s no talk of that, unless the wife or kids tell me otherwise.”

He is in his 11th year of intercounty and only turns 32 in the autumn. Yet three years ago after Mayo’s championship concluded in an unusually thorough beating by Dublin and he had been torched for a couple of goals by Con O’Callaghan the notion that his best days were behind him wouldn’t have appeared unreasonable.

By last year he had rebounded so completely that when Mayo eventually turned the tables on Dublin, Keegan was their spiritual leader, outstanding in the campaign that led to a latest All-Ireland final and earning a nomination for Footballer of the Year.


His haul of All Stars grew to five, a record for a player without an All-Ireland medal. His suggestion for what has happened over the past 2½ years echoed the experiences of many.

Since the pandemic a lot of stuff has been put into perspective. I enjoy it more than I ever have

“Pandemic came at a great time for myself, personally – and kids, they put a lot of perspective on life. Football is no longer your main focus anymore whereas before it was your sole goal. If you’re committed to it like we in Mayo are, it just engrosses and takes over your life.

“That’s a good thing because it’s a good thing to have. Since the pandemic a lot of stuff has been put into perspective. I enjoy it more than I ever have. It’s more of a break for me to go in and enjoy the social aspect, keeping fit, keeping healthy.

“Not that I’m too much older but where I’m at, it’s good to see if I’m competing with the younger guys in Mayo as well.”

At his stage of career, there are flexibilities of approach to training and a general sense of less is more and that has added to his enjoyment.

"I've a lot of mileage done so it's all about body management. I'm lucky that Conor Finn [S&C] and James Horan [manager] understand that. They know what I've done in the past and am currently doing as well so it's just about managing myself.

Shorter season

“If there are heavy loads coming and days I might need to take it back a little bit, we can do that too. So there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of what I’m able to do and able to give. For myself, I’m trying to go full hog all the time. I still think I’m 21 sometimes.

“I probably tailor it more to how I feel and just [try to] be smarter all around about how the season is going to progress. I’d say this year because it’s a shorter season, any injury is going to put you off so it’s just about minding yourself as much as possible. It’s hard when you’ve games coming thick and fast, and Division One is the way it is.”

His role on the team has changed from an exemplar of the attacking wing back to nuts-and-bolts defending on the inside line of Mayo’s defence.

“It shows James has a lot of trust in me still to mark some of the top guys out there. It’s interesting at times but I do enjoy it.

“James still gives me licence to get forward as best I can. I can’t do what I did when I was 23, 24 and make 15 runs a half. I have to be a bit smarter with how I use my runs and energy. It has definitely changed. It’s a challenge and I’m enjoying it. I’ve had some good days and bad days but the bad days always make you come out for the better once you learn from them.

“The biggest thing I found was you have 30 yards to cover behind you as well. You’re on the last line of defence so if you’ve one slip or fall or make a bad judgement it’s nearly a goal chance straight away. That was the biggest difference I found initially going back there full-time a few years ago.”

Massive game

This season’s league has been very successful for Mayo, who just require victory this weekend over Kildare to guarantee a place in the final against Kerry. Keegan is dismissive of the idea that mind games might dictate a lukewarm engagement by James Horan’s men given the proximity of the championship match against Galway, which is just a month away.

“For years we’ve been begging to play as many games as possible, trying to get rid of that 10-week break. Now we have the opposite, games week in and week out, and that’s what players want.

“You want to win as much silverware as you can. There’s not a lot of opportunities: national [league], Connacht and All-Ireland. For us that’s obviously the goal but we’ve a massive game on Sunday to achieve that against Kildare. We’re not taking that game for granted after a team scoring 0-24 the week before.”

Is it the first Kildare-Mayo match since the ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ qualifier in 2018?

“Let’s not mention the war again,” he concludes.

Lee Keegan is an ambassador for John West Féile, which this year will have a regional level as well as county and national. The national finals will be held in Dublin and Meath (hurling and camogie) on June 25th and Dublin and Kildare (boys’ and girls’ football) on July 2nd.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times