No Mayo player did more to try to stop Tyrone than Lee Keegan
THE raw data states that Lee Keegan had 23 possessions in last Saturday’s final.
It’s a solid number, especially for a full-back, but it only scratches the surface of a herculean performance on the day by the former ‘Footballer of the Year’.
Indeed, had Mayo somehow found a way to win, he would be a shoo-in for a second such award.
From the get-go Keegan was driving Mayo forward, always trying to power on with surging runs from deep. Always proactive in possession, brave without being reckless.
One cameo stands out above all others.
After 21 minutes, Keegan got a hand in to turnover a loose Tyrone pass and, as is his wont, did not satisfy himself with that. He drove on but, running out of options and, coming under pressure, he went to ground on the 13m line near the corner of the Hogan and the Hill.
Conor Meyler and Michael McKernan prowled over him like rottweilers, hungry for what looked an inevitable turnover.
Somehow, and we’re still not sure how, Keegan drove himself up off the ground and through their clutches to recycle the possession to Ryan O’Donoghue. Seconds later Paddy Durcan would point to level the scores at 0-5 each.
Physically, it showed incredible leg strength to power away from such a position, but mentally it showed a man who was ‘on it’, and was going to leave nothing behind in the pursuit of victory.
It was far from an isolated incident. He had a hand in 0-9 of Mayo’s tally of 0-15.
That’s outrageous for a full-back.
He was fouled on another barnstorming run for Rob Hennelly’s pointed free on 45 minutes.
Remember that sinking feeling after Darren McCurry’s goal to put Tyrone 2-10 to 0-11 up?
Most Mayo fans turned to one another and said ‘that’s that’.
It is possible some players thought the same. It was a hammer blow.
Lee Keegan was having none of it though. In an act of utter defiance, he tried to drag Mayo on his back, back into the game.
From the very next play, Keegan bombed forward to fire over a warning point to Tyrone from 45 metres – ‘ye don’t have this one yet’. From Niall Morgan’s kick-out, won by Enda Hession, Keegan ran hard at Tyrone and was fouled. Ryan O’Donoghue converted the free.
Within two minutes of the goal, Mayo, thanks to Keegan, had pulled the gap back to three.
It should have been a catalyst.
But one man can only do so much. The ship Mayo was leaking in too many parts.
Keegan could only bail out so much water. Tyrone, to their credit, didn’t blink either.
Discussions about teams deserving All-Irelands are moot: you have to win it on the day. Mayo know that more than anyone.
But discussions about players deserving a Celtic Cross are another thing.
We can think of no player we’ve ever seen play the game who deserves one more than Lee Keegan.
In defeat, he was heroic.
Is he ever any other way?