Saturday 24 February 2018

'Getting so close gives you ambition to return' - Higgins

Keith Higgins, Mayo captain
Keith Higgins, Mayo captain
Keith Higgins
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It's put to Mayo captain Keith Higgins that he'd be forgiven if he had second thoughts about going back in year-on-year.

After all, how many times can you ask a man pick up the shards of his shattered dreams and expect him to go again?

Higgins is of the glass-half-full school of thought. Going down in All-Ireland finals and semi-finals is, he says, better than never seeing the big show at all. And, in a way, this offers its own sort of incentive.

Other than the toil of January, there's nothing about a new season that holds any fear for him. If anything, it offers hope. Hope that this year will be better and that just this once, they might ride the wave all the way in. After all, if there's no hope, there's nothing.

"People ask is it hard to come back after getting so close but I think it is the opposite way," he offers.

"If you were getting beaten in Qualifier games and not getting to quarter-finals, it would be a bit more difficult. But getting so close and knowing you are not too far away, it probably gives you the ambition to come back in January and build on what you have done and hopefully progress."

Familiar

Mayo go into the year on the back of a familiar story but with a new management. Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly have been charged with coming up with the recipe that will get them over the line. They'll bring different things but after four years under James Horan, the current squad are experienced and know what is required.

"You kind of have to hope that the players are smart enough and mature enough to set the standards for ourselves.

"The management will have their ideas of how they want to play or what kind of set-up they want to put in place. But the players have the standards from training and how they do things off the field and hopefully everything will fall into place after that."

Higgins doesn't think he'll be part of the puzzle in the forwards this time around. Horan threw him into the attack with some success last year but it's clear he sees himself in a more familiar defensive role this year.

"I don't think that's in their plans. I don't know where James got the idea from but I enjoyed it for the few days I did it - in the championship anyway; last year in the league wasn't so good. I enjoyed it but can't see it happening again.

"I keep saying I don't mind where they play me. My philosophy is that there's so many people out there who'd love to be in our position so you just have to go with it. The manager's boss and you have to do what he says."

"(In attack), you're not running around after James O'Donoghue all day! It's different and it's something I wasn't used to so it was enjoyable for a while, especially when you're playing out (in Croke Park) with a big, wide open pitch to run around in and you're not running around after someone. It was enjoyable but that is behind me now."

They've made a mixed start. A win over Kerry in Killarney was a welcome fillip to help heal the wounds of last year's All-Ireland semi-finals clashes.

A week later, they were turned over by a Tyrone side with a heavy emphasis on defence but Higgins isn't too concerned.

"Tyrone are always a tough team to play against. We've played them a lot in the league and a couple of years ago in the championship.

"They're always a tough team to play against but we didn't expect them to go that defensive.

"It could be a learning curve for us. I think it was Donie Vaughan said in an interview you learn more out of defeat than you do out of victory.

"Win the game and you're probably thinking, 'Great, things are flying here', but when you lose like that you have to look back and see what you did wrong and how you can improve."

And maybe that's the key. If you still believe there's room to get a little bit better, then why wouldn't you keep on chasing your dream?

Irish Independent

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