Former Mayo defender Lee Keegan. Cathal Noonan/INPHO

'Defensively, Dublin are there for the taking' - Keegan

The five-time All Star outlines how his former team can hurt Dublin in Croke Park this weekend.

IT PROBABLY WON’T come as any surprise that Lee Keegan has thought about how he might react should this be the year Mayo defy the odds and go on to finally lift Sam Maguire again.

“I have the week booked off!” laughs Keegan, who called time on his 11-year intercounty career earlier this year. “I’ll do a little Sergio Aguero celebration after Argentina won the World Cup… I might do something similar, or a Jack Grealish!”

Mayo are still getting used to life without the 2016 Footballer of the Year, but having downed Galway in Pearse Stadium on Sunday, they find themselves back in an All-Ireland quarter-final against familiar foes.

Keegan delivered some of his most memorable performances against the blue jerseys of Dublin and even though he’ll only have a watching brief this weekend, he’s looking forward to the latest installment of one of the most colourful rivalries in Gaelic football.

“I actually don’t have regrets at all (about retiring) to be honest,” Keegan explains.

boylesports-ambassador-diarmuid-connolly-with-lee-keegan BoyleSports ambassador Lee Keegan. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“Of course when I saw the Dublin game come up I was dusting off the boots for a few minutes just for the fun. I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens.

“Even last Sunday I thought maybe there might be something in me that would love to be playing, not really to be honest. I think I made peace with that last year when I made my decision. There is always times when you are sitting at home, would I love to be involved, of course, that’s just normal but for the majority I haven’t missed a huge amount of it. I have just enjoyed life outside of it to be honest.”

It hasn’t taken Keegan long to settle into a new pace of life, with the Westport man proving an insightful addition to RTÉ’s live GAA coverage.

Looking ahead to the big one in Croke Park this weekend, he feels the margins are small, outlining his belief that the fitness of Jack McCaffrey could swing the game in Dublin’s favour, and picking flaws in both team’s games.

“The biggest thing is if the game descends into any sort of chaos, as we know with the Dublin games, that’s where Mayo play their best football,” Keegan says.

“I think the draw in general actually is quite positive to be honest. No-one knows about Dublin, we don’t know where they are at, what they are thinking, but I think the sight of each other will bring out the best (in both of them).”

Yet even the best might not be enough to bring either team all the way this year. Keegan admits Mayo aren’t scoring enough, but adds that he feels Dublin’s defence can be exploited. 

Even looking at the spread of (Mayo) scorers in the Louth game and Cork game, from up top, I think we had three starting forwards or four in both of those games that scored, and that’s a concern.

“But I think there’s chinks in Dublin’s defence where they can exploit. My worry is that Dublin set up with a good system and structure early on and keep away from that chaotic stuff that Mayo love against Dublin, I think that Mayo might struggle a little bit (then).”

The five-time All Star is asked to expand on the flaws he sees in Dessie Farrell’s side, after stating “defensively Dublin are there for the taking if they (Mayo) want.” 

“Mick Fitzsimons is one of the all-time great defenders. but I think you could take him in an one-v-one situation,” Keegan continues.

aidan-oshea-wins-a-high-ball Aidan O'Shea wins a high ball against Galway last weekend. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“For Mayo, and I think they’re going to leave Aidan O’Shea up top, so how they deal with that, and if Mayo get enough ball to him, can they (Dublin) deal with that? He looks leaner and in the best shape of his life this year, so I think they have to have him as the focal point this year and that will cause a lot of issues.

“And even their half-back line isn’t as stable as it once was. I think one-on-one they can be got at, and they know that. I think they’ll give up chances. I firmly believe that. We’ve seen that against the likes of Louth and teams like that. They will cough up goal chances.

“The problem for those teams is that they didn’t take them and Dublin are able to do so much damage the other way that it didn’t become relevant.

“I think if they get them in one-on-one situations in Croke Park, I think Mayo have serious pace around their forward line. Tommy Conroy is a guy I think of off the cuff straight away. If he gets any bit of a sniff of space he’s going to take you on. And the space in Croke Park will suit the likes of him. Ryan O’Donoghue, playing off Aidan… Look, I think there’s good scope for them there. It’s can they get them enough ball to do that?”

“I just think there’s gaps there, if we can exploit them. And I think equally Dublin will see that, they’ll feel that if we can keep Mayo to 12 scores we’re going to win the game probably. So a lot of big question marks around both teams. That’s just the unknown with the football structure at the moment, it’s just hard to get a read on where teams are fully at.”

Keegan is speaking at a sponsored event in Dublin, having spent the morning posing for press photographs alongside former Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly. The two provided plenty of flashpoints during those great Dublin-Mayo battles, but there doesn’t seem to be any lingering ill-feeling around the relationship now.

lee-keegan-and-diarmuid-connolly Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly in 2016. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“We had a bit of craic there talking kids, punditry and a bit of shite talk in between,” Keegan says.

“Talking about some of the mad stuff we did in the 10 years we were playing against each other, there was enough in that alone to talk for an hour or so. If you can’t respect him for what he did as a player, then you are crazy. I loved every bit of playing against him. 

It might have been a bit over the edge, but that’s just the rivalry we had over those few years.

“It wasn’t just us two, I do honestly think the media blew us out of proportion in some aspects because the cameras were always there, and just the nature of him being so good and me trying to negate that.

“If you look at the rivalry in general it was always bubbling in nearly every position, but for some reason us two got a lot more attention. Maybe it was the sending off or some of the mad stuff we were doing off the ball… checking jersey sizes.” 

Diarmuid Connolly & Lee Keegan took part in an ‘Epic Conversation’ for BoyleSports. BoyleSports is offering ‘Epic Odds’ on the match – 6/4 Dublin, 11/4 Mayo. 

The 42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel