Higgins' dual role inspiring Collins and Mayo team-mates
Providing he comes through Mayo's training camp in London with a clean bill of health, Keith Higgins will resume his dual role and take his place with the hurlers as they bid for a rare Croke Park success in the Nicky Rackard Cup final on Saturday.
Higgins has been a busy man of late and after helping Mayo see off London in Ruislip on Sunday, he intends to play in the hurling showdown with Armagh despite intense preparations for their Connacht SFC semi-final with Galway on June 18.
Team-mate Eoghan Collins, also a Ballyhaunis clubmate of Higgins, confirmed his availability and with all the hype over the Mayo footballers and their quest for Sam Maguire, he has great admiration for Higgins' passion for the small ball and welcomes the return to "his first love".
"They're over in London now so if they come home unscathed we'll have him. That's the plan," said Collins (right) yesterday. "He always said it was his first love, his father's from Galway and is the club manager at home for the last two or three years."
Higgins scored five points in Mayo's last Croke Park appearance, a Senior 'B' All-Ireland final loss to Kildare in 2004, and the three-time football All-Star has played their last three Nicky Rackard Cup games in spite of his hectic schedule.
And as one of the younger players on the panel at 22, corner-back Collins believes the skill and leadership Higgins offers is invaluable. "Ah, he's class. It just comes to him so easy," he said.
"He could be a couple of weeks, a couple of months out of hurling and he'd pick up a hurl and within three or four days he'd be the most skilful man on the pitch. He'd just get it back in the click of a finger. You could throw him in anywhere, the leadership as well, he's been here, done it on a lot bigger stages, he says a few words and everyone listens.
"You take it all in and just try and go out and emulate it really. You'd have been looking up to him having played for Mayo for the last 10 years so yeah he's some operator. When he has the love of it and he comes back in I'm sure the way he is the managers can't really say no to him."
Collins himself comes from good stock. His first cousins are dual star Podge Collins, his older brother and Banner footballer Sean, while uncle Colm is Clare football boss. And he admits it was watching the Banner which rekindled his interest in hurling.
The Mary I student is a "late bloomer" having taken time out to focus on football, where he represented Mayo at minor and U-21 level, but it's "mainly hurling" now.
"I would've been a late bloomer. I would've started when I was 16 or 17. I suppose when Sean won the U-21 All-Ireland in 2009 that kind of started me hurling up above and I just kept it going really," he said.
"I'd be friendly with Tipp and Clare lads in college, you'd be down in the pitch pucking around most evenings. I remember one of the first days you'd be anxious enough going out hurling, seeing whether you're up to standard but you'd soon get up to it."
Cratloe is only a stone's throw from his Limerick base so he regularly checks in with his relatives and he is hoping to soon add more family silverware.
"You'd look up to them and try to emulate them. We stayed down there a few times, there's a line of hurls inside the door so you just have to take one and go outside."