Lee Keegan: 'Kerry have given everyone hope'
By John Harrington
Lee Keegan says Kerry’s victory over Dublin in the Allianz Football League Final gives hope to every other county.
Keegan’s Mayo came close to toppling Dublin themselves in last year’s All-Ireland Final which went to a replay and the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final which also went to a replay, but on both occasions they ultimately fell just short.
But he believes the sight of Dublin losing a big game in Croke Park for the first-time since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal has given all of their competitors a boost ahead of the forthcoming Championship campaign.
“We have challenged Dublin on regular occasions and come very close, unfortunately the draws are not good enough,” said Keegan today at the launch of the 2017 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps.
“You just have to beat Dublin to call it a rivalry. But I suppose Kerry gave everyone that sense of hope that there is a bit of scope there for beating them.
“Now, you just have to say that Dublin are a fantastic team regardless, they have so much quality on and off the pitch.
“And the way Jim Gavin is not afraid to bring player on and maybe one of his star players off is a testament to how he treats his squad because there's no-one bigger than anyone in the squad.
“Kerry definitely gave everyone, not the hope, but the excitement that the summer is really going to kick into the fore now in the next few weeks.
“We're counting down now to the first few weeks of the provincial championship, and you'd really have one eye now looking forward to saying, 'Right, if we get our match-ups right and get our squad right and ready for championship, there is a real chance that it can happen'.”
Kerry did to Dublin last Sunday exactly what Mayo themselves hoped they could do when they came to Croke Park on March 4 to play Jim Gavin’s team in the League.
It was billed as an opportunity for Mayo to avenge their All-Ireland Final defeat, and that’s how the players themselves viewed it too.
But instead of laying down a marker, they were brushed aside easily as Dublin ran out 1-16 to 0-7 winners.
Keegan admits they fell flat on their faces that night, but believes they’ve since redeemed themselves by finishing an inconsistent League campaign strongly with wins over Tyrone and Donegal.
“Mayo are very proud of our work-rate and tackling, but we just looked very flat that night,” says Keegan.
“I was playing myself and we just seemed flat from minute one to 70 and Dublin just got on top of us. It didn't look like Dublin were out of third gear, it was just the fact that we were so poor.
“It was just a poor night because it was a game we were really looking forward to. I suppose coming back here to HQ to play Dublin after last year.
“I wouldn't say it was for redemption, but it was a good opportunity to say, right, we want to put down a statement for ourselves going forward and maybe look to getting to a League Final.
“But it just didn't happen, it was one of those nights where you look back and think nothing just worked and anything we tried didn't come off.
“It's something we were really disappointed with ourselves because you don't want to go out like that. Dublin just really walked over us that night and that was the sad part about it.
“But we've got over it now, we had a couple of big weeks where we were put in the cauldron again and had to win games and that was the important thing, we pulled out the results.”
Before those wins over Tyrone and Donegal in the final two rounds of the League, the Mayo players had been copping some flak both from outside and within their own county.
Their home defeat to Cavan in particular was used as a stick to beat them with, but criticism is something these Mayo players have had to grow accustomed to.
According to Keegan, they’re now sufficiently thick-skinned to ignore it and instead stay focused on the narrative they hear within their own camp.
And what they’re telling one another is that regardless of what some might say, they still have the ability in their panel to end the county’s long wait for an All-Ireland senior title.
“We just keep on going because the more you look at these kind of comments, it could bring you down,” says Keegan. “The young guys it could bring them down confidence wise.
“It’s important not to take things too personally or to heart because again there's a lot of people behind keyboards, they can write what they want. The key message from a Mayo point of view is whatever we do inside the four walls is the most important thing. No point looking above that because it's not important to us.
“It's a familiar kind of scene. You kind of get used to it after some stage. At the end of the day, it's probably the common answer, but it's all about the group.
“The league we were trialling a few lads there to bring them in. All we're worried about is trying to unearth new talent and see what they can bring to the table.
“You look at the likes of Dublin, they're bringing in young guys every week. People are always going to have comments about Mayo, until we win the All-Ireland they're more than entitled to have it.
“We're trying to build a squad that's capable of winning All-Ireland's before we can win it. So everyone's going to tell us that we're not doing this or that. I accept that but at the end of the day it's what we do inside our four walls.
“People say, 'the same old Mayo', but we come back every year and still produce quarter-finals, semi-finals, and get to finals, and that’s still hard done.
“It's testament to our lads that they still really want that Celtic Cross and I still fully believe that we can do it, but it's going to take a lot of hard work.”