"It just shows that no matter if you’re senior or whatever, James is going to be looking at everyone" 4 months ago

"It just shows that no matter if you’re senior or whatever, James is going to be looking at everyone"

With everyone else talking, Mayo were just content to get down to work.

After winning the National League on the Sunday, most of the team were back to work on the Monday and they were training the Tuesday night.

It may have been the county's first piece of national silverware in 18 years but James Horan and this squad know that there's bigger fish to fry.

Lee Keegan as he says himself, is just buzzing for the 'white heat of championship.' No doubt that League win will give them belief, and the Wesport man was delighted to be able to give something back to the fans who'd go any lengths to support them, but the main thing Keegan takes from the League is the youngsters it has developed in Mayo.

Like James Carr, Ciaran Treacy and Fionn McDonagh. Like Matthew Ruane.

The end product is an all-round more competitive Mayo football squad and Keegan admits that Horan's masterplan to give every footballer in the county a chance is reaping rewards.

James Carr, the League final star sums this up. He's from a junior club in Ardagh who have never had a player on the county pane.

“He’s (James Carr) the first player to be involved from Ardagh," says Keegan at the John West Féile day. "They’re a junior club. It just shows that no matter if you’re senior, James is going to be looking at everyone."

Fionn McDonagh, a clubmate of Keegan's, is another.

"He’s a freak of nature. His capacity for running and work rate is savage. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve got to see him in intermediate finals and played with him in Croke Park myself for the club so I knew what talent he had, it was just up to himself if he wanted it or not. I suppose he got lucky with James coming to the club last year, he got to see what he brought to the table. He’s definitely brought his game on this year, James has trusted him with that role. Unfortunately, he got an injury for the league final so that curtailed him a small bit. Listen, he knows what he needs to get right for New York. He’s definitely a part of that pool of players who are not looking at some of the older guys who have done the good stuff before, they’re just looking after themselves and their own game."

And in club games - which have been played over the last two weekends in Mayo, is how they've done that.

“Even from the club scene, we played last weekend and definitely, there’s been a huge intensity shift from the last couple of years because lads see that if they play well, there could be a call up for them so that’s been a huge plus, but definitely around Mayo - the performance levels in everyone have risen a good bit."

"We were brought down to reality pretty quickly, we were put in the firing line. James put the challenge to us as well, ‘ye need to be performing, not only in the Mayo camp, but in yer clubs too because guys will be watching what ye’re up to.’

That's a way to keep lads motivated. This squad have no shortage of motivation this year.

“Although we had a bit of a blip last year in Mayo, we had to look at ourselves, that maybe there is a lot of talent out there that we mightn’t have been exploring. So when James got the texts in for trial games in October, you seen how many people arrived up for them, that was a really positive thing and we’ve got 5, 6, 7, 8 guys from that and they’ve got huge game time in the league. These guys are only going to start getting better and better as the championship goes on."

These few months off were no harm for a team who'd been on the road for so long and Keegan feels they're back with a renewed appetite this year.

"It was definitely a weird change, not to be here at the business end of the year, looking at the other teams in the Super 8s, so from that point of view it was tough. But then the flipsides of it is you have to enjoy a little bit of life as well so you get to spend a bit of time with friends, family, back with your club as well - unfortunately I had Horan there as well so I’m sick of looking at him at this stage, but ah, it was a good couple of months, lads got to reassess themselves, take a bit of down time.

"I think we’ve reaped the benefit of it a small bit. Again, the club championship was at a very high level again because some lads didn’t get game time with Mayo so the were mad for it. From that point of view, a lot of lads got good mileage in the legs. Then the trials came around in October and we were back in November. It’s been good, pretty full on since, I think it’s good, it gave us a balance and flexibility where we got to enjoy a bit of life but got to play enough football too."

And this summer he hopes there's more of it than ever before. For himself, for his teammates, and for the Mayo fans too.

They’d go anywhere to watch a game with us, so just to acknowledge the amount of support that brought to us in the league final, I suppose when we needed them in that league final, they were definitely bringing a lot of noise to ourselves to get us going.  You have to respect the amount of time and effort they put in as well with the amount of travelling they’re doing and the cash they’re spending and the miles they’re putting up. It was nice for them to embrace that and to share that moment with them, and I think our supporters are smart enough now to know that it’s only a stepping stone. Albeit saying that I think there are 5,000 of them going to New York, God help them getting tickets! They’re a savage bunch of fans, we couldn’t have got this far without them.

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.