HAPPY AS LEEROY Mayo’s Lee Keegan poses with the National League trophy after the 2019 final win over Kerry at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
IT probably won’t come as a huge surprise to hear that Lee Keegan was the best Mayo footballer that I’ve seen in the last 30 years.
I was lucky enough to play with some of the very best, but Lee’s performance levels in big games on the biggest days were extraordinary.
They were spectacular, and his list of achievements during his 11 seasons with Mayo speak for themselves. His consistent excellence also means that he’s rightly regarded all over Ireland as one of the all-time great Gaelic footballers.
So the news that Lee has played his last game for Mayo was news that we were all dreading, because his performances again last year showed that he had plenty of good football left in him.
We all know our important how Lee was to the Mayo team, both in terms of his qualities as a footballer and in terms of his leadership and mental strength.
Having Lee Keegan in your team gives other young players’ confidence. I can well imagine the impact and influence he had on the dressing-room, leading by example every day he went out, and that is something that Kevin McStay and Stephen Rochford would not want to lose.
I’m not sure that Lee is somebody who thinks too much about things like ‘legacy’, but in terms of his legacy to Mayo football, in general it’s good to leave people wanting more.
We will remember for his outstanding performances right through, and up to the end, of last season. Such was the consistent high quality of his displays all through his career, that he will will rightly be remembered as one of Mayo’s greatest ever footballers.
Now that the news is official in early January, it makes me think that Lee probably made his decision a while back, let it sit and reflected on it over Christmas, and then made the announcement once he had his mind completely made up.
Listening to Lee in interviews over the last few years, and reading his retirement statement, it’s obvious that his wife and two young daughters are his main priorities in life now.
I can understand that completely.
He also intends to continue to play with Westport and the fact that they are such a good team means that he’ll be operating at a high level with them in 2023.
From Mayo’s point of view, they now have to get used to life without Lee Keegan.
He’s respected in every GAA club and county in the country, and beyond, as a gold-standard footballer. So opposition teams will feel buoyed by the fact that Lee is no longer there.
Team-mates and young Mayo players will feel the loss of Lee not being there with them.
His versatility will be missed in a big way too.
We’d all love to have seen Lee play more of his Mayo career at number five, and not have to go back into the full-back line to do man-marking jobs, but he did what was best for the team.
And it says a lot about him that he was willing to sacrifice his own game for the sake of the team. Team came first for Lee.
As Mayo supporters, we’re all very proud of Lee. He gave us some magnificent moments to remember and walks away as a legend of the game.
I’d like to wish him all the best in his retirement.