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Mayo’s Lee Keegan retires from inter-county football

After weeks of speculation and much consideration, the 33-year-old is bringing an end to his 12-year inter-county career.

Since making his debut for Mayo, Lee Keegan has won five All-Stars and played in seven All-Ireland finals. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Colm KeysIndependent.ie

Lee Keegan, considered by most to be Mayo's greatest footballer, has announced his retirement from inter-county football.

After weeks of speculation and much consideration, the 33-year-old is bringing an end to his 12-year inter-county career.

The Westport man, who never played minor for his county but rose to become the most decorated football All Star (with five awards) without an All-Ireland medal, was believed to be close to announcing his departure recently but held off to accommodate further reflection and talks with management.

But he has doubled down now on his conviction to go, having signalled in recent interviews that spending more time with his young family would be a big factor in any decision.

Coming so soon after Oisin Mullin's departure to take up a two-year international rookie contract with Geelong, Keegan's retirement is another blow to Mayo as, unlike most of his colleagues who have left the dressing-room in recent years, he is going out having had another fine season that took him close to a sixth Allstar on the back of strong performances against Galway, Kildare and Kerry in the championship. Only goalkeeper David Clarke, of their recent retirees, was a regular starter.

Keegan has been a hugely popular player in Mayo for some of his heroics in the face of adversity.

He was the driving force behind their comeback against Dublin in the 2021 All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin and for a few minutes after Mayo went five points down to Tyrone in the subsequent All-Ireland final following Cathal McShane's goal, it felt like he was ready to drive a similar charge with some inspiring bursts upfield.

But it petered out and with that went his last real opportunity to win that elusive All-Ireland medal.

Keegan has featured in all seven All-Ireland finals that Mayo have contested on this current run, 2012, 2013, 2016 draw and replay, 2017, 2020 and 2021 and is recognised as a magnificent competitor with a hard mental edge that paired him up with some of Mayo's most dangerous opponents and a drive and energy that took him deep into enemy territory.

Keegan's scoring statistics, primarily from half-back, are quite remarkable. He has played 140 times for Mayo between league and championship and scored 8-71. But drill down into his 67 championship appearances and his return is 7-48, over a point per game.

For a defender, that's quite something, especially when you consider some of the more difficult man marking assignments he has had at the other end of the field.

In his last championship game, the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kerry in June, he picked up Paudie Clifford for much of it and held him scoreless. Clifford was the second half game breaker for Kerry in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final and final.

In other years he was tasked with tracking Dermot Connolly and Ciaran Kilkenny in All-Ireland finals.

Kilkenny was his company for the 2017 All-Ireland final and was coming in on the back of another big season at that point but Keegan tamed that influence even if the Dublin's talisman's possession count has been grossly exaggerated on the low side ever since.

Prior to that, Connolly was his detail and they never backed away from each other. But Keegan got the upperhand there overall, even managing to outscore his opponent, on aggregate, in those duels.

Whenever a difficult job needed doing, Keegan invariably did it, whether it was Enda Smith at midfield in the 2017 All-Ireland quarter final against Roscommon or Sean Cavanagh and Michael Quinlivan in 2016 All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final against Tyrone and Tipperary, a year that ended him winning the PwC 'footballer of the year.'

Maybe the most remarkable feature of Keegan's championship scoring haul is that from his seven goals three were scored against Dublin, all in consecutive championship matches, 2016 All-Ireland final replay, 2017 All-Ireland final and 2019 All-Ireland semi-final. Only Wexford's Redmond Barry scored more championship goals against Stephen Cluxton.

Keegan has never hidden his love of the physical side of the game and willingness to engage in gamesmanship.

Infamously he removed his GPS pod from the sleeve inside his jersey at the very end of the 2017 All-Ireland final and threw it across Dean Rock's line of vision, just as Rock was stepping to the free that ultimately sealed Dublin's three-in-a-row. He ripped more than his fair share of opponents jerseys in his time and had his own ripped in similar fashion just as often! He never backed down and smiled through the combat and while it aggravated those who he came across, there has always been deep respect for him as a player among the inter-county body.

“I’ve played a bit on the edge for many years as well, sometimes a bit too much," he acknowledged in a recent 'Irish Independent' interview. "That’s high-level sport, all teams do that. You are always going to challenge the system a tiny bit, to see how much you will get away with or get on top of it.”

As much as he is a loss now, he was a gain for Mayo in the first place and has credited Pat Holmes with being an influence in guiding him away from rugby at a time when he was part of Connacht development squads.

In recent weeks he has helped Westport to win a first Mayo title and with a wealth of talent the club has positioned itself for a strong immediate future of which he will, no doubt, be a part of.

In a statement, released this morning through Mayo GAA’s official channels, Keegan cited the time demands associated with having a young family as the reason for his decision.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my time with Mayo,” the statement reads. “We had great days and some memorable victories. For me, it was always about wearing that Mayo jersey with pride every single day, and I was honoured to play alongside players who were of the same mind, and under managers who drove high standards on and off the pitch.

“But all good things must come to an end. The reality is that I have had to rely on a lot of people – most notably my wife Aoife – to give me the time and space to pursue my dream.

"Now that we have two young children, Lile and Rhea, I am keenly aware that I am no longer able to commit to inter-county football in the way I did over the past eleven years. I will continue to make myself available to Westport and look forward to building on last year’s historic success in the years ahead.

“I wish Mayo every success in 2023 and beyond. I will be cheering them on from the terraces. That’ll be an unusual experience for me, I’m sure, but such is the way of life.”

Just last week, Kevin McStay sounded a cautiously optimistic note that Keegan would be part of his first season as Mayo manager.

McStay is also quoted in the statement, describing Keegan as “indestructible and defiant: on the biggest days, he walked tall and proud. Lee embodied the resilience of Mayo. The example he set will continue to inspire Mayo for many years to come.”

In all, Keegan made 67 championship appearances for Mayo and scored 7-48. His total of 140 total appearances puts him fifth on the all-time list, behind only Andy Moran, Keith Higgins, Aidan O’Shea and Kevin McLoughlin.


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