It’s a role few would envy but Lee Keegan of Mayo has embraced the challenge of man-marker, marshalling some of the most dangerous forwards in the country.
Some of the battles between the 29-year-old and Diarmuid Connolly have been a pleasure to watch while he has also been tasked with the likes of Shane Walsh and Ciaran Kilkenny, and most recently, Seán Ó’Shea in the Allianz League final.
Keegan managed to hold the youngster scoreless from open play and that was a major factor in Mayo winning their first national silverware since 2001.
“It was something that was explored under Rochey [Stephen Rochford] that he played me in the full-back line and I took a lot of harsh lessons in the league that year. It’s a positive for myself, it shows that the management have the trust when they put me on their danger men like that.
“Sometimes it’s not the nicest job to get because you know exactly what’s coming your way but I got to mark Sean O’Shea up here from Kerry, a fantastic player and probably one of the best players in the league so I knew that if I didn’t have my game right, I was going to get a bit of a roasting.”
In previous years, the sight of Keegan racing up the wing and kicking a point was not an uncommon one. His name was on the scoresheet in consecutive All Ireland finals in 2012 and 2013 and while he enjoyed the attacking aspect of his game, he has fully embraced his fully defensive role.
“It’s probably a bit more of a role that I’ve embraced in the past three or four years because I was probably a bit more of an attacking wing-back. But first and foremost I am a defender and that’s about stopping forwards scoring rather than going up and scoring myself.
“We have a lot of attacking wing-backs, look at Paddy Durcan, his record is pretty sick for scoring at the moment so if these guys are able to do that, it’s important that I do my man-marking role to the best I can.”
“There’s some scary moments but it’s definitely one that I’ve enjoyed over the past few years. In some parts, other parts I’ve got some absolute cleanings before and I’ve learned more from them than I would have done on a guy I done well on.
“I remember marking Darran O’Sullivan in a league game, he gave me a right hockeying but instead of me going sulking, I actually took it as a positive because this is the standard of man-marking I need to get to. They were the best lessons I ever took.”
Mayo have no time to rest on their laurels following their league win as they return to championship action in just over two weeks time against New York in the Connacht quarter-final. Following an early championship exit last year, Mayo are desperate to be involved in the “business end” of the season.
If that is to happen, they cannot afford to take their foot off the pedal, according to Keegan.
“We were back training the Tuesday [after the final]. Pretty sharp. If you want to be at the business end, you need to be thinking ahead. For the guys who didn’t get game time, they were back training straight away, they have to be.
“If you want to get in the squad, you need to be training well, training hard. As boring as it was and it sounds, that’s just the reality of it.”
Mayo footballer Lee Keegan joined Limerick hurler Aaron Gillane, Mayo ladies footballer Niamh Kelly and Kilkenny camogie player Anna Farrell in Croke Park to launch the 2019 John West National Féile and to announce that John West will renew its sponsorship of the National Féile for a further four years until 2022.