Friday 30 September 2016

'All-Ireland glory would be fitting reward for Higgins' selfless off-field efforts'

Daragh Small

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

Mayo captain Keith Higgins
Mayo captain Keith Higgins

Few could deny that three-time All Star Keith Higgins deserves an All-Ireland title - and that's before you take into account the selfless work he does behind the scenes at his club.

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Ballyhaunis reckon that if Higgins does lead Mayo out of the wilderness after 64 years, it would be a fitting reward for his effort and attitude.

Higgins has started in three All-Ireland finals and lost all of them, but now has the chance as captain to become the first Mayo man since Sean Flanagan in 1951 to lift the Sam Maguire Cup.

There are still quite a few obstacles to overcome before that happens but Higgins has already led the Green and Red to their first ever five-in-a-row in Connacht.

Higgins has more than one string to his bow: the 30-year-old is not only one of the country's finest footballers, but he has also starred at county and inter-provincial level as a hurler.

The former IT Sligo Sigerson Cup winner has had to curtail his hurling at inter-county level, but he continues to balance both codes with his club.

Higgins is the driving force behind Ballyhaunis' recent wave of success, and his role is fully appreciated at the club.

"You don't know what it meant to the people of Ballyhaunis when he lifted the trophy for Mayo's five-in-a-row," says club chairman Michael Webb.

"It was a very special moment for all of us here and it is something we will never forget.

"It would be the icing on the cake if he was to go on and lift the All-Ireland as well after that. But we know there is a long way to go yet."

Higgins' father Pete is club's hurling. A native of Mountbellew in Galway, he played a big part in setting up a hurling dynasty at Ballyhaunis' east Mayo base in the late 1980s. The club won 10 of the last 13 Mayo senior hurling titles.

Keith's brother Pierce is a star player, having also featured for Mayo.

"We have a great rivalry there between ourselves and Tooreen. Keith is the driving force behind that and without a shadow of a doubt he is the best hurler to have come out of the Ballyhaunis and Mayo," adds Webb, who also wore the Mayo jersey in the '70s.

"Sure he went on to play for Connacht a few times in the Railway Cup."

Former Mayo stars Fergal Kelly, David Nestor, Tony Morley and Ted Webb all played for the club, which is located close to the Roscommon border.

Gaelic football in Ballyhaunis has been restored to the senior ranks this year.

They won the Mayo intermediate championship last term and although they haven't competed in a final since 1958, they are heading in right direction.

They have only won the senior crown twice - 1919 and '58 - but club skipper Higgins is doing everything to ensure that changes sooner rather than later.

"There is one thing you have to say about Keith Higgins, he is a true gentleman," says Webb.

"Even from all over the county if you pick up the phone and ring him for presentation of medals to young lads or whatever, Keith will be there.

"He puts in a lot of effort behind the scenes and the wider public wouldn't really recognise that until they see it first-hand.

"You only have to ask him once and he will be there to help out. Any time he is asked to participate in a bit of coaching he will always make himself available."

The Ballyhaunis U-12s will be showcasing their skills in the half-time game at Croke Park tomorrow evening, but for now Higgins will be focusing on just one thing.

"Croke Park is where every team wants to play. That was our aim at the start of the year, to get back into the quarter-final," he says.

"Sometimes a performance like the one against Sligo can hide over mistakes so we will have to wait and see.

"I don't know if we are ahead of where we were last year - we will find out when we get to Croker. It is hard to tell with a Connacht final like that."

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