The dual mandate may be something that has been abolished in political circles, despite the best efforts of one Mayo TD, but there is another dual mandate that is in severe decline also — the inter-county dual player. One man in Mayo is keeping that mandate alive and after a winter in Australia to let the batteries recharge after a couple of very hectic years, he’s back and ready for more.
Keith Higgins is one of the very few players who are left willing to give their all for club and county in both hurling and football. The Ballyhaunis man who captained the Mayo U21s to All-Ireland victory in 2006 is just happy that he’s in a position to do his bit for both codes and the county.
“I suppose I’m very lucky with the managers I’ve had in both hurling and football, who have let me still play both for the county. There would be others in the country who would probably tell you to pick one, but so far I’ve been able to do both.”
Higgins, who led his side on the last great day for a Mayo side in either code in Ennis back in 2006, has been a lynchpin of both the football and hurling sides in the county for a number of years now and just loves getting out there and playing.
“It can be tough and tiring, but I’m well used to it now going from one game to another with maybe less than a day’s rest, I’m just happy I can do it.”
Keeping up with the action
With player burn-out a key issue in GAA circles these days and the introduction of a closed season for group training sessions introduced to keep it to the minimum as young players are asked to give more and more, Higgins could quite validly cite burn-out concerns, but it’s been so far so good for the east Mayo man.
“I took the winter off to go to Australia to get a bit of a rest for a while, but I kept up some training to keep me ticking over. A couple of hard weeks now, with both sides should see me back in full fitness as the summer goes on.”
The Mayo senior footballers started their championship campaign a few weeks ago in New York, but Higgins was at home because the hurling side had a Christy Ring Cup first round clash away to Kerry to contend with. “Getting straight back into tough championship action was good, because I got to hit the ground running.
“It took a while to get back to the pace of it because, they had been at it since January but there is nothing like championship games to get you up to speed as soon as possible.”
The Mayo hurlers lost that game, which put them into a successful do or die play-off with Westmeath last weekend with the prospect of the relegation play-off looming for the losers rather than a crack at the Christy Ring title later on this summer.
Mayo came out on top and now look forward to a quarter final match. There were a few question marks over the Mayo side after the Kerry defeat but Higgins was in no doubt his side would win out. “We had a great belief in ourselves, before that game and we knew that we could take them. They’re a good side, a team that has won a few Christy Ring Cups in the past few years so we knew we had to be on top of our game and in the end it worked out.”
The past decade or so has seen the Mayo hurling set-up come on in leaps and bounds, something that Higgins has played a key part in. He has seen the game grow around the county and hopes to see this continue into the future.
“I’d say since around 2001 to 2002, you could see the game coming on here in Mayo. Before that we were hurling in division four and in and out of division three, but we have made great steps up to last year, getting to the Christy Ring Cup semi-final and coming very close.”
While this year Higgins was excused from the New York trip with the footballers, he has luckily been able to avoid clashes between both codes on the most part apart from one day in 2006.
“I have been lucky in that, I guess, that there have been no real clashes, the only time when there were two really big games on the same day happened in 2006. The hurlers were playing Kerry in Ennis in the division two league semi-final and on the same day the U21 football semi-final was on in Cavan. So that was the only real big clash that I had [Higgins was the captain of the football side].”
And on to this year and what he hopes will be another hectic year on both fronts. “Well with the hurlers, we are looking to build on last year. We got to the Christy Ring Cup semi-final and came very, very close to making the final, so we want to go one better again this year at least.
“While with the football side, we have to be looking at winning a Connacht title at least and take it on from there. It’s going to be tough for both sides, but we have the players and the teams to do it.”
While being in an inter-county squad is almost as much work as being a professional sportsman and takes the commitment that most people would shirk, it is refreshing to know that there is still at least one man who is willing to take on that task on the double and put the work in.