The man who's seen it all

Hurling on: Keith Higgins continues to be a key man for the Mayo senior hurlers and will be hoping to add a Christy Ring Cup title to his list of honours. Photo: Sportsfile.

Hurling on: Keith Higgins continues to be a key man for the Mayo senior hurlers and will be hoping to add a Christy Ring Cup title to his list of honours. Photo: Sportsfile.

The sun was starting to take its first steps downwards last Sunday evening when Keith Higgins swung into the car park in Adrian Freeman Park in Tooreen.

The 37-year-old whose given his entire adult life to both hurling and football codes, hops out of his car and picks a hurl and sliothar out of the back.

It doesn't leave his hand for the duration of his time there. A few hops and solos as he waits for things to get going and it's still a constant presence in his grasp during our conversation.

Higgins has seen it all at the top level in football and on the hurling field with Mayo. Since his retirement from inter-county football at the end of the 2020 season, he's been able to solely focus on the small ball game at inter-county level.

Last year he picked up his second Nickey Rackard Cup medal with Mayo, to go with a couple of league titles he has won in different divisions over the years and on Saturday, he will be once more heading out onto the field in Croke Park looking to bring an All Ireland title back to Mayo.

Having only got promoted out of the Rackard Cup last year to be back in another final a year later - is something that even he admits not many people would have seen coming.

"I think if you had told us at the start of the year we would be in a Christy Ring Cup Final, you might not have fully believed it no matter how much you tell yourself.

"If we found out we were going to be competitive in the championship, we would have been happy enough with that considering the amount of players that are kind of lost from last year, we have shown in the last few weeks that we are good and deserve to be there."

Unusually after winning the Rackard Cup last year, Mayo lost a number of key players from their squad for a variety of reasons and it took them a while to find their feet this year and the league in particular was a tough innings for them.

"I think I was looking at the team that started the Rackard Cup final last year and there was six or seven players that aren't even on the panel from the starting 15 you know - if any team in Ireland lost seven of their starting 15 they would struggle.

"A turnover like that is difficult to recover from and that kind of showed in the league, we struggled there. But if we had got a bit of luck along the way we would have done better and got different results, but the three outside players coming in for the championship made a bit of difference."

The league didn't go well for Mayo where they ended up getting relegated, but while it was tough at times, Higgins always felt they could turn things around come championship and they have.

"It was (tough ) and you would be lying if there wasn’t a bit of doubt along the way, particularly the last game against Wicklow when we got relegated, you were probably thinking where are we going but like I said, there is not a magic formula - you just keep going, you keep doing what you’re doing and you don’t change things up drastically and you just keep working away.

"When the campaign is so short and it is week on week, and you get a win or two, momentum is a huge thing and once the form is good you are in better form going training during the week; it's hard to put the finger on it but, it is momentum really.

“Realistically we knew we were better than Wicklow and I suppose beating them down there was a big win and following it up with the London one was even more important.

"If you had lost that one you would have been doubting yourself really, but the win over there was huge; you got the win and enjoyed yourself for the night and had the week off before the Sligo game, the London one was important."

Mayo were able to draft in some reinforcements before the start of the Christy Ring Cup which bolstered their chances and each of them have been key additions to the set-up since, as Higgins explained.

“Absolutely, it has probably just taken a bit of pressure off other guys there, but they have been big additions. We knew what the two McManus’ (Joe and Ger ) were going to bring from being with us a few years ago and Joe Mooney obviously, he is a great hurler, physically strong, good in the air and he is well able to take a score and when you get additions like that it is always going to strengthen things up."

Kildare will pose another serious test and a big step up again, but daring to dream to be hurling at the highest level is what it is all about, he added

"It would be unbelievable and a huge step up and would require an awful lot of work next year. I was just thinking that today and I saw Wexford's result against Westmeath last year and myself and Coyner (Stephen Coyne ) had many battles with Westmeath ten years ago and beating Westmeath and these teams, it shows what can be done; but that is the bigger picture of getting the structures at underage and getting the club structures right, but you always have to dream, don’t ya."


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