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Lee leaves on his own terms


STAND AND DELIVER Lee Keegan and his Mayo team-mates stand for the national anthem before the start of the 2017 All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay against Kerry at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Lee Keegan has been reflecting on his decision to retire

Mike Finnerty

IT’S all over and it’s all about to begin.
That’s how Lee Keegan sees it.
He has finished one chapter of his life story, but there are many more to be written.
Most of us may know him first and foremost as an outstanding Mayo footballer, probably the greatest player to ever wear the Green and Red jersey.
But the man himself feels there is so much more to him and certainly doesn’t want to be defined by what he did so well for more than a decade on the big stage.
Those who know him best will tell you: ‘There’s so much more to Leeroy than meets the eye’.
An hour in his company last week confirmed as much.
“That's just the way I played football, maybe under-thinking it ten percent less rather than overthinking it by ten percent  more. Just to be free, just go with it,” he said at one point.
And suddenly it all made sense.
The herculean performances in the biggest matches, the goals in the All-Ireland Finals, the five All Stars and the Footballer of the Year award. The ability to get the best out of himself when it mattered.
“For me it was just about personal fulfilment,” he explained.
“I loved putting the jersey on every week, playing games, and it was the best bit of craic I’ve ever had. The journey itself was brilliant.
“People will always point out the All-Irelands [lost] and that’s 100 percent, I can accept that, I can take it on the chin, but if I’d won an All-Ireland would I have been any different?
“Maybe not that much to be honest.
“The craic I had over the 12 seasons with the different groups, different managements, different characters, learning different things about different people, I just had such fulfilment,” he added.
“I’d be sitting at home sometimes, and I’d just start thinking about the years gone by and I’d just start laughing. It was just so much fun.
“I got such satisfaction out of putting on the jersey and going into work as hard as I possibly could, and making sure that I was challenging people and they were challenging me.
“I have no regrets from my career, absolutely none.”
As for Lee’s decision to retire from Mayo service after 12 seasons, 140 appearances and all the blood, sweat and tears spilt, it turns out that decision was more or less made on June 26 last.
On the day that Kerry knocked Mayo out of the championship at Croke Park. The months that followed were about letting the decision sit and settle in the background. Just to make sure it was the right one.
“I’ve made peace with the decision,” explained Keegan, who turned 33 last October.
“To be honest, without sounding in any way confident, I’m proud of my work with Mayo. I’m proud of the work I did and I’m also proud that I got to wear the jersey for as long as I wanted to wear it, and I went out on my own accord.
“I’m going out knowing that I left the jersey in a really good place.
“I had the decision nearly made, to a degree, after the season ended last year.
“But the thing with that was we still had six months before we played again with Mayo, and then we went on a run with Westport and that occupied a lot of my time.
“By the time we were done with that, it was already into November so I didn’t have much time for thinking between the Kerry game and finishing with Westport.
“By the time I started thinking about Mayo again, they were nearly back into their pre-season.
“I had reached a certain conclusion after the Kerry game, and it never fully changed even after the times I met with Kevin [McStay] and Stephen [Rochford], although they said to think about certain things. .
“I had total respect [for them], and at the times I met them you’d get giddy again, but as a day or a couple of days went on, I just kept coming back to the same conclusion,” he continued.
“I just knew at that point, if it was like this now, it was going to be very hard for me to get back to the point where I was coming in the years before that.
‘I’m ready to rock, I’m ready to roll, I’m ready to work hard here again’. And I just couldn’t do that for the sake of the group, I don’t think it’s fair.
“Guys are competing really hard behind me and they’re slogging it out from November, doing pre-season, playing games. Out of respect for the group, I can’t go in with half an attitude or 75 percent. It has to be full Lee or no Lee. And that’s out of respect for myself, but moreso out of respect to the group.
“A lot of people asked why I was retiring. I suppose I’m content with the decision, I’m content with the work [I’ve done], but I’m also just at a different stage of life now.
“It’s not just solely family, family is a huge part, don’t get me wrong, a wife and kids. .
“But I had full blessing from my family to go back if I wanted to.
“At the end of the day, the decision is coming from myself.
“As I said before, I just don’t want to be missing out on milestones, I like being present and around as much as possible, just to experience different things in life, see the mundane stuff, have a few weekends away, take a holiday, do different sports…
“Whether it works out or not, I’ll stand by my decision.
“It’s nice to finish knowing that I went out at the top of my game, but also injury-free and able to do stuff in normal life as well.”


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