"I was like 'Jesus, I've no hope of getting into the team now.'" - 2017 A vs B game was Keegan to an absolute tee
Fergal Boland will never forget Mayo's last in-house game before the 2017 All-Ireland final.
How could he?
In general, when it comes to these A vs B games, it's fair to say that fringe players are under more pressure to perform than key men. It's just the way of the world.
It's more important for them to make an impression here because, if they're to have any chance of making the team, they have no option but to shake things up.
Building up to the 2017 All-Ireland final against Dublin, there were no grey areas about it. Fergal Boland was a fringe player and Lee Keegan was a certified key man.
But as he thought about Keegan yesterday, on the day the swashbuckling wing back announced his retirement from Mayo, Boland just couldn't get away, although he wanted to, from that 2017 trial game.
"I was thinking back yesterday," Boland says.
"I remember marking him in that A v B game before the 2017 final. I was on the B team, and on that, you might have to mimic say a Dublin player - so I was mimicking one of the half forwards.
At his free-flowing, swashbuckling bestpic.twitter.com/HFjecmUMyQ
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) January 9, 2023
"At the time, I was trying to get onto the 26 man panel, so needed to play well in the A vs B and then next thing I'm faced up against Leeroy, the best half back in the country."
It was around this time when, as a half-back, Keegan was in the midst of re-defining the position. Half backs weren't always scorers, or blistering attackers, but Keegan was scoring all around him. And as Boland found out, it was on the training field where he perfected it.
"I remember he scored 1-4 on me on the day from wing back, and I was like 'Jesus, I've no hope of getting into the team now.'
Ciaran Kilkenny was the player Boland was mimicking in that trial game and just as he did to his Mayo team-mate, Keegan went onto get the better of Kilkenny in the real deal a couple of weeks later.
Keegan famously restricted Kilkenny to just eight possessions in that final (he had 66 in the semi-final vs Tyrone) and as you'll see in the clip above, where Keegan scored a brilliant goal, Kilkenny was trailing after him.
"That's probably the biggest memory.
"In terms of a trainer," says Boland, who will be one of Tooreen's key men in this weekend's AIB All-Ireland intermediate club final, "yeah, he just maxed out at every single session, whether it was the start of the year, end of it, he maxed out at every single session, a pleasure to be around, pushing everyone to their limits, and such a sound fella as well."
"It was a bit of a shock when I seen he announced it alright, but he's given so much to Mayo football over the last few years.
"It's been his life and soul and in terms of a player, he just had everything. I used to mark him a good bit in training because I was wing forward, him wing back, so in terms of strength, speed, power, he was unbelievable. You couldn't beat him any way.
"And he trained the way he played, that was the thing about him.
"He showed no mercy in training. Do you know, he was as aggressive in training as he was out on the pitch and that's a sign of a savage player, that trains the way they play, and he definitely did that."
Meanwhile, Kerry defender Paul Murphy was also gushing in his praise of his former opponent.
"There was no end to him as a competitor," said the Rathmore man.
"Whatever, you'd throw at him, he'd relish it, he would come back for more. A big thing about his impact as a player was that he backed himself in those big moments, to take on the big opportunities at scores, and invariably he nailed them.
"He took on the job of marking one of the opponents' key players and do as good a job as nay would do on him. For Gaelic football in general, he's been a huge part of the last ten years.
"There is a lot of fitness required for what he was doing. Maybe it's a timing thing? You're picking your moments to break forward and then timing to get on the ball at the end of the move.
"Also, the style that your team plays, some styles are more suited to that. It's a difficult role but he made it look like we should all be doing it."