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Mayo’s Lee Keegan on his epic battles with Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly

“I loved it, I loved it because he was better than me, skill-wise and everything”

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin and Lee Keegan of Mayo tussle during the 2016 All-Ireland final replay. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE


Lee Keegan insists he loved the challenge of marking Diarmuid Connolly during Mayo’s brilliant battles with Dublin over the last decade and says he has no regrets on his decision to walk away from the county game.

Keegan and Connolly struck up an infamous rivalry which Keegan admits “went too far” on occasion but he insists he had nothing but respect for Connolly as a player.

“I loved it, I loved it because he was better than me, skill-wise and everything. And that is probably what pushed me a little bit more because I was outside my comfort zone because I knew the guy was better than me skill-wise, ability-wise and sometimes that can be a driving factor,” Keegan said, speaking to Shane Rice on the ‘The Off Season’ series on YouTube.

“No, I was given (the job of marking him), but I wanted him too. Deep down. We broke even probably the two of us. He came out with the medals so he doesn’t mind at all but in terms of one on one . . . but he was a guy I respected because he was so good.”

The pair were team-mates on the Ireland international rules squad, but Keegan insisted the enmity never went outside the white lines.

“Darren Hughes made it awkward one day . . . he said something smart in the team room and I ended up going out laughing but kind of crying – but it was for the fun of it in the camp. I think people were more tense than us two because they probably realised what had gone on. But I met in him Coppers and bits like that.

“Listen, I’m very much whatever happens on the green grass . . . you never bring it any further because it is not worth it.

“Sometimes it probably did go too far on the pitch and I put my hand up for that but that was the nature of our business – we were trying to compete for the ultimate prize essentially, so of course you are going to do what you can to win.”

As part of a wide-ranging interview Keegan dismissed the idea that he goes down as Mayo’s greatest player and insists he’s happy with his decision to walk away.

“Ciarán McDonald. By a mile. I played with Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle – I see them guys as the pinnacle and I got to play with those guys. And when people say that it’s nice, it’s flattering and stuff like that.

“But I came in at a time where the culture of Mayo was starting to change and I’m more proud of being part of that culture and seeing standards been driven and stepped up and where Mayo were before that to where they are now and knowing I left my jersey and the jersey I played in for 12 seasons in a better place.

“That’s the privilege for me. That’s one of the greatest achievements because I know I never took a step back to leave that jersey in a bad place.

“Knowing that is why I’m content with my decision.”

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