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An ode to a Mayo warrior


THE GREATEST Mayo’s Lee Keegan reacts after scoring a goal during the 2016 All-Ireland SFC Final replay against Dublin at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile


Edwin McGreal

Name: Lee Keegan
Age: 33
Club: Westport
Inter-county honours: 7 Connacht SFC titles, 5 All Stars, 1 National League medal, 1 Footballer of the Year award.
Did you know? Lee scored 8-71 in his 140 appearances for Mayo over 12 seasons.

IT wasn’t just seasonal colds and flus that had men and women all over Mayo reaching for tissues yesterday (Monday).
The news that Lee Keegan has called time on the most stellar of Mayo careers brought tears to many eyes after it was announced yesterday morning.
No player personified Mayo’s crusade of the past decade like the Westport man.
Defiant, resilient, never capable of giving up, Keegan was a warrior in the Green and Red.
How good was he? Quite probably Mayo’s best ever, but you’re wary of comparing him against those who played before you were born; particularly heroes of 1950 and ‘51 like Carney, Langan, Flanagan and Prendergast.
But if they were better, then those who saw them play were blessed.
Because, if we are graced to grow old, we will be telling the generations to come about being able to see Lee Keegan play. We saw him line out for Rice College, as an Under-18 with Westport, fail to make the Mayo minor team in 2007, but go from there to become one of the greats.
Sport at its very best makes you feel at your most alive. Lee Keegan’s goals in the 2016 All-Ireland Final replay and 2017 final sent green and red adrenaline coursing through our veins.
Whatever about anyone before we were born, Lee Keegan was the best this writer has ever seen. That’s not too emphatic a statement – he crossed that barrier in 2016/17 but kept climbing since.
Perhaps he will be the best we will ever see. There’s a question we will come back to plenty of times in the future when assessing Mayo careers. ‘Sure, he was a great one but was he as good as Keegan?’
He will be the benchmark for greatness.
Lee leaves with five All Stars and a Player of the Year award from 2016.
We’d argue he deserved a sixth All Star in 2022 and a second Footballer of the Year in 2021. Not getting such accolades probably won’t bother him, but it shows his enduring class.
We thought he might be on the slide after he struggled against Con O’Callaghan in the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. Instead, he was immense in his final two seasons for Mayo.
So he left us wanting a bit more too! He turned 33 recently but age had not dimmed his capacity to bend games to his will.
Against Monaghan last summer he kicked a herculean point when Mayo were stuck in a scoreless rut.
Against Galway in April it was Keegan who kicked the point to ignite Mayo’s late, if ultimately, fruitless comeback.
Against Kildare, he hit two more points to rally the troops and an involvement in Oisín Mullin’s equalising goal.
Against Kerry, he kept Paudie Clifford on a very tight rein.
He was Mayo’s best player in his last championship season. He was almost Mayo’s best player in every one of those four championship games in 2022.
Even back in the 2021 All-Ireland final, when all seemed lost, Keegan strode forward to kick two inspirational scores. The gradient of the mountain Mayo had to climb was too steep, but Keegan threw himself at it nonetheless while others were suffering from altitude sickness.
So the sadness this week is not just a sentimental, wistful longing for a bygone era, but the clear-eyed knowledge Mayo will miss an older and wiser Lee Keegan immensely.
But it is easy for us to dream and wish about seeing him continuing to line out in a Mayo jersey.
Anyone with young children knows how time consuming that is and also how precious and fleeting that time can be.
Like Oisín Mullin going to Australia, the selfish Mayo supporter in us can wish for Lee to have waited and given it one more crack, but anyone with humanity can understand Oisín Mullin wishing to pursue an amazing opportunity and Lee Keegan feeling he can not give the commitment required.
Because, as Colm Boyle pointed out on The Mayo Football Podcast recently, there were no half measures with Lee Keegan.
If he felt he could not commit fully and give himself the time to get to his awesomely high conditioning levels, then he would find it hard to commit at all.
A Lee Keegan at 75 percent throttle might be plenty for most of us, but not for the man himself who showed such high standards throughout his Mayo career.
The highest of standards.
No player in modern Mayo football, from 1989 on, was capable of delivering so consistently on the biggest days as Lee Keegan.
In a team of great Mayo warriors, Lee Keegan was the colossus.


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