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GAA: Opinion

Great to see him back: The return of Keith Higgins to the Mayo football set-up is a great boost ahead of Mayo's meeting with Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

Great to see him back: The return of Keith Higgins to the Mayo football set-up is a great boost ahead of Mayo's meeting with Galway. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo's preparations for their crunch tie with Galway on May 13 have gone to the next stage with Stephen Rochford tidying up his championship panel last week.

The big news of course before that final panel was announced was the return of Keith Higgins to training. I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief at the news as the rumour mill was in overdrive as to his situation with many a story landing at my doorstep with the starting line, "I know a fella who knows him well and he said he's definitely not coming back."

Higgins was well entitled to play with the small ball for the entire league, it was his prerogative, although at times I wished he was lining out for the footballers, especially when we were getting schooled by Kerry and Tyrone in MacHale Park. Hurling is his first love, his father is a hurling man and with the greatest respect to the hurlers, the hurling situation in Mayo is not as pressurised a cauldron as Mayo football is.

At the end of the day things could not really have worked out any better for all parties concerned, the hurlers had a great league, gaining promotion, and the footballers acheieved their main objective of survival in division one. I have no doubt a few would have questioned Higgins' decision had Mayo been relegated from the top tier for the first time in 20 years.

But the bottom line is this, Keith Higgins owes Mayo football absolutely nothing. Zippy, as he is affectionately known, is most definitely going to be remembered as one of our best ever ball players. I cannot wait to see him lining out for the footballers again.

Tough times for players who did not make the cut

Alan Freeman and Jason Gibbons were the big name casualties culled from the Mayo panel for the championship. Their omission can pretty much guarantee we will not see either of them in a Mayo jersey again. Freeman's journey has been a strange one, leaving the panel of his own accord last year only to return to offer his services again this year. His only appearance in this year's league was as a very late substitute in the crunch last round tie against Donegal.

The fact that Rochford brought him on at such a crucial stage in such a crucial match had everyone believe that he was most definitely part of the Mayo manager's plans for the 2018 championship. That cameo certainly had me fooled anyway.

Jason Gibbons no doubt knew the writing was on the wall for him. Having started the first three rounds of this year's league, he was in pole position to nail a berth for himself in the panel, however the absence of Tom Parsons and Seamie O'Shea for the first three league games was probably a major factor in his selection at midfield. Add to that, Donal Vaughan, Stephen Coen, and the versatile Aidan O'Shea can all play at midfield, Gibbons was always going to be the one to lose out.

It is not an easy time for a footballer realising you have not made the cut. Most would prefer to bow out of their own accord. James Durcan, AKA Paddy's twin, has been included in the development squad on the back of some very impressive displays for Castlebar Mitchels. Having watched him in the league this year against Charlestown he will certainly make any aspiring or experienced wing back work for their place. Stephen Rochford will no doubt be waiting anxiously by his phone this weekend hoping all his players come through their club league games unscathed.

Looking back on the challenge our schools sides faced

On the back of being massively impressed by the quality of football in the All-Ireland A and B schools finals that involved Rice College and St Nathy's two weeks ago I was curious to delve a little into the opponents both teams faced in Croke Park.

St Nathy's faced the Holy Trinity College from Cookstown in County Tyrone whose team was made up of players from 11 different clubs, yes 11. Peter Canavan is their sporting director and current Tyrone senior player Mark Bradley is a selector with them.

Nine of their players are directly involved with the Tyrone U17 and U20 squads. Compare that to St Nathy's whose entire starting 15 were from two clubs (Ballaghadeereen and Eastern Harps ) apart from one each from Charlestown Sarsfields and Eire Og.

Rice College opponents St Ronan's Armagh were represented by nine different clubs and the school has only recently become an amalgamation of three different schools. Factor in that Rice College had 10 Westport players, three from Kilmeena and two from Burrishoole, they did tremendously well to even compete against such riches. The future is bright for Westport football.

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