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Lee Keegan Doesn't Get Nearly Enough Credit For His Performances Against Dublin

Lee Keegan Doesn't Get Nearly Enough Credit For His Performances Against Dublin
By Conall Cahill

He manages to float effortlessly over the ground, shimmying past defenders. Throwing them with a drop of the shoulder or a dummy. Both feet equally adept, if a piece of skill doesn't suffice he will simply rely on a burst of pace to drive past his marker.

To watch Diarmuid Connolly play Gaelic football is to observe an absolute artist. A creative genius. It is no exaggeration to say that Connolly is one of the greatest footballers to have ever played the game. His natural ability is simply frightening, his execution of that talent ordinarily stunning. The fact that the St Vincent's man only has one All Star award makes a mockery of the awards themselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEg4Dng_Vrw

Connolly has the ability, at any level, to destroy a team entirely by himself. His on-field intelligence (in a playing sense) is almost unparalleled. Not just in the scores he provides - which are, if not in high quantity, nevertheless often delivered at crucial stages in a match - but in the space he opens up for the other forwards in the team. The runs he makes into positions where a simple lay-off creates a scoring opportunity.

Connolly's display against Mayo in Croke Park at the weekend was, by any ordinary standards, a good one. Some exquisite kick passing was accompanied by a lot of selfless work in his own half, a goal assist and a crucial point in the latter stages of the game. But the reason his performance was, for Connolly, just that - good - is almost entirely down to his old nemesis, Lee Keegan.

Keegan's displays against Dublin and Connolly over the past several years have been an exhibition of combining a man-marking role with an ability to get scores. Combining both of these roles is incredibly difficult in an average club match. Doing it on the vast expanses of Croke Park, against a team of athletic freaks like the Dubs and while having to worry about the outrageous things Diarmuid Connolly can do with a football, is something that very few players in this generation would be able to manage.

Connolly's scoring feats for Dublin aren't as spectacular as they would be if he played closer to goal. Nevertheless, he has only scored five points from play against Mayo in five massive games (2012, 2013, 2015 (twice) and 2016). Keegan has scored four. So, in theory, Connolly has taken Keegan for just one point in five games. But more than that has been Keegan's restrictions on him in general play.

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In any game against Mayo that Connolly has managed to exert some influence, Keegan has matched him. If he gives an inch to Connolly, Keegan will, more likely than not, make it back up at some point in the game - and last year, in the semi-final replay Dublin won, it was Keegan dropping the ball into Stephen Cluxton's arms when he should have scored that lingered as the moment when Mayo could have pushed ahead.

The fact that Dublin have often still prevailed despite Connolly under-firing is a sign of just how ridiculously good they are all over the pitch. But, while Dublin can perhaps afford to have an off-day from Connolly, Mayo simply wouldn't be able to survive a low-par performance from Lee Keegan. Connolly's influence unchecked is worth at least several points to the Dubs.

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Diarmuid Connolly is often referred to as the 'player of his generation'. The extent to which he is just that is a matter of debate. But if he is going to be included in that debate, then Keegan should be too, if only for his displays against Dublin. We should not allow the focus on off-the-ball activities between the two to distract from this.

While they may not be as outwardly beautiful as one of Connolly's gloriously languid long-range points, Keegan's performances in limiting one of the best players ever to have laced a pair of boots are worthy of just as much, if not more, open-mouthed wonder.

(Photo credit: Sportsfile)

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SEE ALSO: Sky Sports Monumentally Mess Up Their All-Ireland Final Match Report

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