Lee Keegan comes out as defender of officials

Mayo player named the Opel GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month for August

The latest advocate of improved respect for referees is somewhat unexpected. Lee Keegan has tangled with authority over the past 12 months. A year ago he was red-carded in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry but challenged the decision and was cleared for the replay.

In the recent drawn encounter with Dublin he was centre-stage for the incident in which Diarmuid Connolly was sent off for striking Keegan only for a late-night deliverance from the DRA to clear him to play in last Saturday's replay.

In the downbeat circumstances of a mere five days after losing that replay, Keegan was revealed yesterday as the Opel GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month for August. He is candid about the incident in the first match.

“Emm, well yeah, I suppose just a few minutes before I had been pushed over myself. So I was kind of a small bit provoked myself. But that’s not something you’d try to think about on the pitch too often because you need to hold your head as well,” he says.

“Unfortunately I was sent off in last year’s semi-final for something that I thought was nothing at the time. Again, I can’t blame the referee for his decision; he’s only making it in a split second.

"Diarmuid is obviously one of their best players. I'm going to try to stop him any way I can to win the game for Mayo. We haven't won an All-Ireland in a long time and we've been told before we're a bit of a soft touch. So the reality is that if I'm marking one of their best players, I need to stop him at all will.

“Our tackling is always on the edge. It’s definitely something we pride ourselves on. There’s no point being a soft touch and I don’t think Dublin were innocent themselves if you look at the first game, they had a lot of incidents themselves.

“Yeah, all the top teams have their black arts . . . even Kerry have it; they did last year with us so you need a bit of a streetwise mentality about yourself.”

Connolly went through three exhausting nights, challenging a one-match suspension in respect of the red card at the GAA's Central Hearings Committee, on appeal at the Central Appeals Committee and finally at the Disputes Resolution Authority.

Keegan didn't have to run the whole gamut of disciplinary committees to obtain his clearance and he refers to how only last month, his Mayo team-mate Kevin Keane also escaped suspension for a red card but he wonders about the number of opportunities that exist to overturn match bans.

“There are too many different places to go for a player to try to get off and there’s too much time to find a loophole or a technicality.

“It is so difficult for a referee. He can’t see everything, he’s only basing it on what he thought he seen or could have seen or if it did happen so it is very difficult, I have to say I do feel sorry for the refs at the moment because they are coming under a lot of pressure from different views and different opinions so . . . it is tough, very tough. There is a lot of appeals processes and I suppose even from our point of view, we got our man off this year but when is it going to draw the line when they’re (referees) going to get helped?”

Controversy

Connolly had one of his quietest games for Dublin after all of the controversy surrounding the removal of his suspension. Keegan sympathises, as he had a similar experience last year when unexpectedly cleared to face Kerry. He acknowledges the pressure in those circumstances.

“A small bit, yeah. You’re probably looking at yourself, thinking, ‘Why did it have to be this, the week before?’, or, ‘What happened?’ It’s hard. It is a tough week; it’s mentally draining. As I’ve said before, it’s probably one of the toughest weeks I’ve had in my life and probably it was leading into one of the biggest games of my life, so it is tough.

“I think sometimes if felt like all eyes are focused on you in a negative manner. So obviously from that point of view it’s tough, and obviously Diarmuid Connolly went through the same last week so he probably had a tough week himself as well.”

Mayo had a chance to go five ahead when Keegan hit a point attempt into Stephen Cluxton’s arms but he believes that it was in his primary area of operations, defence, that the semi-final was lost.

Critical goals

“We conceded two in the first game and three in the second. It’s too many at this level to be conceding.”

He defends his colleague, goalkeeper Rob Hennelly, two of whose kick-outs were picked off by Dublin in the build-up to the critical two goals in 90 seconds that turned the match.

“It’s probably very easy for people to say the two kick-outs cost us but the last 15 minutes overall cost us the game. As I say we ran out of gas, we have to look at it and see why this happened. We are the ones not winning the breaking ball or not stopping the players coming through. From that point of view I wouldn’t be blaming Rob at all; he’s got a bit of unfair criticism.”