Hurling first love of Mayo's dual star Higgins
KEITH HIGGINS is rare and not just because he's a dual star. He's also a Mayo man whose first love is hurling.
Football takes priority, though. It has long been that way. Mayo hurl at Christy Ring level, but football obviously offers more opportunities.
Higgins has captained the county to All-Ireland U-21 success and played in the senior decider against Kerry in 2006.
Those are occasions that hurling 'full-time' for the county just can't offer, but he'll continue to pursue hurling, despite the fact that he's swimming against the tide.
And on the weekend of La na gClub, which highlights the club as the single most important entity in the GAA, it's something that deserves to be under the spotlight.
Higgins picked up his love of the small ball from his club in Ballyhaunis, which started a hurling wing just a few years before he was born. By the mid- 90s, they were hurling at senior level and have gone from strength to strength since.
These days, they routinely find themselves in county finals.
"I suppose you could say hurling was my first love," he said. "My father was always into it and that's where I picked it up from.
"But the hurling management knows that football comes first. On the weeks of big hurling games, I try to get a few sessions in with them.
"They would know that there'd be no question of fitness being a problem. But you need to keep your eye in and your touch. That's the most difficult part."
Playing elite level hurling and football is all but out of the question nowadays.
Conal Keaney decided he couldn't do both for Dublin, even when the door was opened for him, so Higgins looks at Cork's Eoin Cadogan with equal amounts of admiration and respect.
"I'm not sure how he's doing it to be honest," he laughed. "I would say it's next to impossible to do it nowadays.
"It's some achievement and if both management teams are happy enough to accommodate him and he's happy enough to do it, then fair play to him."
A hamstring injury has seen Higgins miss this year's Christy Ring campaign, but, even though his Mayo hurling commitments are over for 2011, it makes little difference to his schedule.
The football championship is coming fast with a trip to London on May 29.
Training is like a second job to go with his post as a bank official and there'll be club duties in both codes to be fulfilled too.
The closed season of November and December should, in theory, offer Higgins and his ilk some respite, but it rarely works out that way.
"You could be at something 12 months of the year if you let it," he said.
"I went to Australia for a winter when I got the chance to get a break and I think you have to do something like that to stay fresh.
"The closed season isn't really working, if you ask me, because the guys it is meant to protect are usually playing or getting ready for Sigerson or U-21 competitions at that time of year anyway."
Higgins has generally been lucky with regard to serious injury -- a twisted knee last year kept him out for around six weeks -- so the juggling act will remain for as long as possible.
"It has become a little harder over the years, there's no doubt about that.
"However, I'll keep going as long as I get the call and I stay injury free."