Mayo’s spiritual leader lays down the baton

If it was scripted, it would be the perfect ending for either a western or a romantic drama. One battle-scarred warrior unbuckles his holster and throws away his ammunition.

Then comes the seemingly interminable tension-filled pause in anticipation of what the old adversary crouched behind the wall at the other end of the pass will do next.

Very seldom, however, does it end up like the scene in The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa are pitted against each other in an ice hockey penalty shoot out and when it comes down to one against the other with the final shot, they both down their sticks and roll off the rink together.

There’s an image which surfaced online in the wake of the weekend’s news, showing Dublin’s Jonny Cooper comforting Mayo goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly at the end of the 2013 All Ireland Final after goals at either end of the fixture from Bernard Brogan added another chapter to the green and red’s long tale of final hurdle woe. The snap encapsulates everthing that is good about the greatest sporting rivalries.

Fierce competitors during battle, no quarter expected or given but each with a genuine respect for the majesty of the other. Which is why there was something almost poetic in the fact that, what felt like minutes after Cooper made the big call, the spiritual leader of Mayo football – Lee Keegan – also laid down the baton for the last time.

Lee Keegan has been the most versatile and exciting defender of his generation

Leaving patriotic leanings aside, one of the great things about your life being based around sport is that there are opportunities to see and appreciate class in action, no matter where it emanates from.

There weren’t many, if any, better than Lee Keegan for the better part of the last decade. In paying tribute to Dublin’s Cooper here not so long ago, the point was made that the Na Fianna clubman was Mr Fix-It for the boys in blue. For Mayo’s eqivalent, see Keegan.

Somebody will one day base a thesis on what drives the seemingly unbreakable Mayo spirit, but, whatever the formula, it will surely have to be recalibrated now with the shepherd having passed on care of the flock.

Like Cooper, it’s not stretching the reality of possibilty to envisage Keegan either going into goal or re-deploying to full forward if it was felt the move would advance the Mayo cause.

If an opposition forward needed hushing, Leeroy did it. If they needed a goal to save their collective skin, he went up the field and got it. If, using his intuitive reading of the game, he copped that his colleagues and their legion of devotees needed a lift, he gave it to them.

With a goal or a point or a crunching tackle, whatever was needed at a given moment. Even going so far as to fire a ‘missile’ in the direction of Dean Rock in a (fruitless) attempt to derail the Ballymun man’s laser like accuracy.

Kevin McStay eventually got the Mayo job.

Keegan’s departure is sure to be a big blow to freshly installed Mayo manager Kevin McStay. Especially with Oisin Mullin’s disappointing decision to depart for foreign shores and the Geelong Cats in the Australian Football League.

Naturally, Keegan would have hoped to be part of the Mayo group that eventually, one day, ends the county’s long wait for a reunion with Mr Maguire, but from another angle, this story got its perfect ending.

After all, in the final quarter of 2022, he was the driving force behind Westport’s first ever annexation of the Mayo SFC. He’s done his bit, time to bask in it.

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