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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019

Nearing a return, dealing with illness rumours and how to win that elusive All-Ireland

Mayo’s Lee Keegan has been on the sidelines following two hip surgeries.

LEE KEEGAN IS on the mend following two separate hip surgeries last year, but has no exact return date in mind.

Lee Keegan Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 2016 Footballer of the Year — who wishes to go by Leeroy now — says his body is in good nick and that of course, he’d like to get back into the thick of the action as quickly as possible but he’s following the medical team’s instruction as closely as possible.

“All good and positive,” he grins when asked how he is, adding that he’s back on the pitch running.

“But I’m in no rush at the moment. I’m trying to ease myself back in and see how I go, if I get some minutes in the league I’ll be happy. If not that’s the way it is going to be.

“I’m going to follow my medical as best as possible because I don’t want a setback with the Galway game on 13 May; it’s a short gap from the league to the championship. The main thing is they are not rushing me back.

“I miss it terribly. I don’t want to be missing games, I love playing for Mayo and I want to play as many games as possible, I want to get back as quick as possible and I have to be smart in how I do that.

“I’m looking at getting minutes in the second last game or the last game (of the league), then I’ll be very happy. I want it for myself to get that hit, you can’t beat game time over training.”

Four-time All-Star Keegan underwent two separate surgical procedures on each of his hips to correct ‘wear and tear’ damage in November, an issue which had bothered him from earlier in the championship.

In the short-term, he was getting an injection or two to ease the pain but surgery was the only viable option for long-term rectification.

“Ever since I have been happy, no pain and able to move pain-free,” he continues.

“I wouldn’t have been the greatest man to do maintenance work outside of training. When you’re training four days a week you just want to sit at home and do nothing so that’s how I was for a long time.

“It’s something I have learned a lot about and I’m a bit more wary of. I have to watch my training load.”

Shortly after the operations, the 28-year-old defender was forced to set the record straight and pour cold water on a false rumour that he had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a condition that affects the central nervous system.

“I didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on until my partner came home one day and said, ‘You know, there’s a bit of a thing going about your health at the moment,’” he reflects.

“It’s very disappointing to hear stuff like that. I felt just I had to say something probably just for family abroad, for friends and stuff like that.

“I know families in Westport suffer, and for them to be coming up, talking to Mum saying, ‘If you need advice or anything like that’. It was probably tough for her and again, you don’t want your family going through that kind of stuff.

Lee Keegan Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“For me, it’s fine. I let it over my head. But I suppose I had to say something, just to put it out there, to let people know that I am fine health-wise, perfect, whatever. I didn’t want to have to come out and say anything but I felt it was necessary just to nip it in the bud and get it sorted.

“Even from a national point of view, it really spread quickly which is probably more disappointing as well. I know lads were getting calls from London and Australia and bits like that.

“(I was) just disappointed to have my name being associated with such a serious illness. We have a lot of association back in Westport with people that do suffer with it and it’s not really fair for them to be listening to that kind of stuff.

“Thankfully it’s just put to bed. Where these things start I’ll never know.”

He’s never gotten to the source, he says, and he’d rather not know where the rumour originated from.

On similar grounds, he spoke about how he’s unfazed by criticism appearing in the media and on social media, unless it has a direct impact on his family — as those rumours did.

That said, he accepts that these platforms, and social media in particular, can be a worry for inter-county players.

“It definitely can be problematic, what you put up, you have to be very careful what you say. Some people are just outspoken, they put their views and opinions out there and I have no problem with that at all, as long as it’s not affecting their performance or how they’re playing.

“Social media is powerful, it drives a lot of stuff, and I think it’s become very powerful in the GAA. Players need to be very wary of what they say, what they ‘like’, or what they might hit because it goes public very quickly and the next thing there’s a massive issue about you that you didn’t know.

“That’s where I’d be very conscious on what I’d say and especially because there’s a lot of young people looking at you. You’re looked on as a role model so you don’t want to be putting up stuff that they’re going to use, that shouldn’t be used.

“I think we just need to be a little bit smarter about how we use it. It’s a powerful tool.

“It definitely becomes an obsession,” he adds of the talk surrounding the Westerners and their prominent media presence.

“Mayo, I suppose, are constantly in the limelight until we win an All-Ireland. That’s the unfortunate thing about us and until we do it we’re probably going to be in the limelight for another while.”

With their focus set on succeeding in Division 1 of the National Football League, drastically improving their ‘pretty tragic’ home record is a priority for Stephen Rochford’s charges. They want to make their home ground of MacHale Park, Castlebar a fortress.

Jack Barry, Dotsy O'Callaghan, Joey Boland, Lee Keegan and Jack Guiney Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s early days yet though.

There’s much more coming down the line.

What needs to happen for Mayo to finally break that duck and win the All-Ireland?

“Beat Dublin,” he laughs, but he’s dead serious at the same time.

“I suppose if we’d beaten Dublin once we could have beaten two or three times, and have two or three All-Irelands. But because Dublin are so good, we don’t. We’re looking at the tiniest of margins trying to beat them.

“The biggest thing for this group is that until we beat Dublin, and that’s up to us to find those margins, I don’t have the answer to that yet.

“Once we get over the line once with them then we’re going to have that belief to say, ‘You know what, if we get them in another big game we know we can beat them’. And we believe we can beat them, that’s not our issue. It’s that we have to beat them, that’s where our problems have come from.

“I respect them so highly. They’re so good at grinding out games when they shouldn’t. That’s credit to Jim Gavin, they’re just grinding out games in the last 10 minutes which is the sign of a class team, for me.

“We’re definitely putting ourselves in positions to beat Dublin but I keep saying it, until we beat them no-one is going to.”

And what is it, what’s the barrier? Is it a mental issue?

“I don’t know if it’s a mental thing, it’s just one of those things you can’t put your finger on. I don’t know, it could be the same this year again.

“We’ll have to see as the year goes on.”

And that we will.

Lee Keegan, Jack Guiney, Dotsy O’Callaghan and Jack Barry were speaking at the recent renovation of the Sports Physio Ireland clinic in Dublin 2, fitted out by Ardco Construction. Sports Physio Ireland are experts in sport specific injury management, returning clients to play better than they ever were before. 

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Emma Duffy

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