Tuesday 26 September 2017

"Sometimes you wonder 'will I bother?' but it's too good an opportunity" - Mayo star Keith Higgins

Mayo's Andy Moran, left, and Keith Higgins dejected after being beaten by Dublin in the All Ireland final replay
Mayo's Andy Moran, left, and Keith Higgins dejected after being beaten by Dublin in the All Ireland final replay
Keith Higgins gets away from Dean Rock during the drawn All-Ireland final. Picture: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

It's usually the first question on people's lips as Mayo's opportunity to end their Sam Maguire famine agonisingly slips away - how does this group of players keep coming back for more every year?

There's only a certain amount of heartbreak any person can take but for Keith Higgins, knowing how close they are to the promised land makes it much easier to don the green and red for another season.

Beaten by the eventual All-Ireland champions in either semi-finals or finals for the past five seasons, including a replay loss to Dublin last October, Higgins (31) had little doubt about returning in 2017 for his 12th season with Mayo.

"The way the All-Ireland went last year with the disappointment of it, you're kind of doing a bit of thinking and wondering 'will I bother?' but it's too good an opportunity to pass up on," Higgins said.

"People always ask 'is it harder to come back when you lose by a point or whatever?' but I think it's a bit easier because you realise you're so close. It'd be different if you were getting beaten in qualifiers or quarter-finals.

"If there was a bit of a gap it'd be different but we'd be hoping we're not too far away at all and if we get a few things right we'll be thereabouts."

Mayo footballer Keith Higgins. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Mayo footballer Keith Higgins. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

In an interview conducted before the Irish Independent's exclusive with former joint-managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, Higgins admitted he hadn't watched the replay footage back just yet, with club action for Ballyhaunis in both codes a "nice distraction".

But with Stephen Rochford coming in under "difficult circumstances" 12 months ago, the three-time All-Star defender expects more improvement this year, and given Mayo's proximity to football's holy grail, he feels small margins can get them over the line.

"It was a bit rushed at the start of the year for Stephen trying to get things set up so you'd imagine there's probably been a bit more planning done and we know those lads a lot better after working with them the last year," he said.

"You'd hope there's going to be a bit of an improvement in some aspects alright, and given the way things went if you can get a few small improvements along the way you wouldn't know how things are going to work out next year."

With a steady influx of last year's U-21 All-Ireland winners, Higgins hopes "they have the ambition to push on and take the older fellas' places" but football honours are unlikely to be the only silverware he chases this year.

While Sam Maguire eluded the men from the west, Nicky Rackard Cup success was a massive bright spot for the dual star, who played 13 championship games between football and hurling in 2016.

"I've never really hidden the fact that I have preferred hurling. When I was growing up it was always a game that I enjoyed and you have to try and get as much out of it as you can," he said.

"It's much easier to balance it in Mayo but I don't know how the likes of Podge Collins and Aidan Walsh attempted it with their counties."

Keith Higgins was speaking at the launch of the new Mayo jersey, which is available to buy on www.elverys.ie, in Intersport Elverys and other sports retailers nationwide.

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