Lee Keegan believes Mayo can still win Sam Maguire
MAYO's Lee Keegan has admitted it’s ‘possible’ a media campaign to influence last year’s All-Ireland final replay referee was conducted and was successful.
Various Mayo figures including manager Stephen Rochford claimed that ex-Dublin players had used the media to raise the issue of ‘pulling and dragging’ by defender Keegan of Dubs attacker Diarmuid Connolly ahead of the replay.
Keegan was subsequently shown a black card by referee Maurice Deegan for a grapple with Connolly in first-half injury-time and missed out on the remainder of Mayo’s one-point defeat.
The issue was highlighted again last week when Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice claimed ahead of their Allianz Football League final with Dublin that ‘there was an orchestrated campaign against Lee Keegan that was effective’.
Asked if he agreed with Fitzmaurice that such a campaign had taken place and actually worked, Keegan said he wasn’t sure.
“Possibly, yeah,” said the Allstar. “Refs are under a huge amount of scrutiny and pressure to perform as well so I can never blame just a referee.
“Maurice deemed it a correct decision and I can never argue against a referee on the day of a game because, again, he’s under so much pressure to perform, as well as us.
“So Maurice Deegan didn’t stop us from winning an All-Ireland, we stopped ourselves. We had a chance to level the game in the last minute and we didn’t take it unfortunately.”
Westport man Keegan scored a terrific goal in the final replay before being dismissed for what Deegan deemed a deliberate drag down of Connolly.
Keegan said he was aware before the game that he was being discussed in the media and that Mayo supporters had intervened and ridiculed the comments by coming up with the social media hashtag #ThingsLeeDid’.
“There was stuff said about me, there was even a hashtag made up in response,” said Keegan at the launch of the 2017 Kellogg’s Cúl Camps.
“But it’s out of my control. All I can control is how I perform on the pitch and obviously I didn’t finish the game that day which was unfortunate.
“I didn’t think or read a lot about it because if I did then I’m not really focusing on what I’m going to do on All-Ireland final day, which should be to win the Sam Maguire. If you get too bogged down with what’s going on outside of your control, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Keegan responded to the setback by helping Westport to AIB All-Ireland club intermediate success at Croke Park in February.
He admitted it was a sweet win that his given him renewed belief that Mayo can land a first All-Ireland title since 1951 this year. And he revealed that he considered what it would be like to win the All-Ireland with Mayo while he was walking up to receive the cup that day.
“For a few moments, yes, I did,” he said. “It was nice to walk up the Hogan Stand steps and lift the All-Ireland club trophy, a really proud moment. Obviously club and county are a small bit different but it gave me that glimmer of hope. September did dwell in my mind for a few seconds, that kind of excitement about what’s possible.
“It gave me that kind of rejuvenation to come back in with Mayo, a confident feeling that, ‘we can do this’. If we look at Westport the last couple of years, they were kind of no hopers so it gave me that view that, you know, anything can happen in the upcoming season, don’t limit yourself to what you can do with Mayo.
“Be optimistic and think Connacht medal, All-Ireland medal. There’s no reason why you can’t do it.”
Keegan said he drew some inspiration from Sergio Garcia’s US Masters win after a near 20-year wait for a major title.
“It’s going to happen if you keep knocking, that’s just the way it is,” he said. “I think Mayo were a soft touch for many years. I think beating teams was more a kind of fluke for Mayo 10, 12 years ago or whatever. Now we are doing it more often, we are competing against the best teams week in, week out.
“That started with James Horan bringing that aura into Mayo, saying we can compete and we can be in Croke Park winning games, fighting for one another and bringing that kind of hard edge to Mayo.”