Mayo’s U-21 captain is also one of the country’s busiest dual stars.
MAYO captain Keith Higgins has played seventeen competitive matches for his county this year but admits that next weekend’s All-Ireland U-21 Final will be his biggest game of a hectic season.
“You can’t just say it’s another game really,” Mayo’s captain told The Mayo News. “It’s an All-Ireland Final, but it’s not something I’ll be thinking about too much. I suppose you will be thinking a little bit about the opposition and who you’ll be marking, but I’ll just try and relax during the build-up. The main thing is to conserve energy, not get too built-up about things.”
The 21 year old defender has managed to balance inter-county football and hurling during the Spring, turning in a series of accomplished displays during both National League campaigns, as well as leading the U-21s to Sunday’s Final.
Mayo hurling manager Frank Browne described Higgins last week as ‘the Henry Shefflin of Mayo hurling’ while he has also nailed down a spot in the senior footballer’s defence just fourteen months after making his debut.
“I do make a lot of sacrifices and I don’t have much spare time but I would be very conscious of the fact that I won’t be playing for Mayo forever,” he explained. “I don’t miss out on anything especially and I just have everything in moderation; that’s my theory. “I have played two games in two days a few times this season and by the Monday you’d be fairly stiff alright,” admitted Higgins, “you wouldn’t be up to much.
“But by the following day you’d be coming right again and both Mickey [Moran] and Frank [Browne] have been great about training and my recovery from matches. Rest is definitely the most important thing when you’re playing both codes.
“If I do have spare time I play a bit of golf, maybe watch a couple of DVDs or just laze about the house.”
The almost inevitable question of when – not if – Keith Higgins finally walks away from either top flight hurling or football is one he has been asked countless times. He is currently combining Civil Engineering studies at IT Sligo with his sporting commitments, and is conscious of the fact that he can only do so much for so long.
“Yeah, I have been asked that question a million times,” he laughs. “If we keep playing hurling at a higher level in Mayo, which hopefully we will, then I’ll have to think about making a choice. But that’s not something that I’m thinking about at the moment. Not yet.
”I can’t really say which I prefer,” he adds. “It’s the same buzz you get really, playing for your county. I tend to play up front with the hurlers and get scores which is great. But, at the same time, if you come driving out of defence for the footballers with the ball, and the crowd are urging you on, there’s a great buzz too.”
The Ballyhaunis clubman is relishing his role as Mayo U-21 captain. He concedes that he’s not the greatest talker in the world, but being one of the most battle-hardened U-21s in the country, makes him well-qualified to wear the armband.
“I’m not a great man for talking but there times when you have to take on responsibility. Everyone does their fair share of talking in this team. The young lads, last year’s Minors, have been great too. The only time you notice how young they are is if one of them comes into the dressing-room wearing his school uniform,” he smiles.
“Lifting the Cup after the Connacht Final was a great feeling,” continues. “Looking down, at all the players and management and supporters, it was a lovely feeling.
“But the Tyrone game was probably the most satisfying of the year. We were one point down and came back to win in extra-time which showed great bottle. After losing to Galway [NFL semi-final] the previous week, and with so many questions being asked of our character, it was nice to show what we were made of.”
There is no doubt that Keith Higgins prefers to do his talking on the pitch. Once this U-21 Final ends he will start looking to the Christy Ring Cup, the Connacht Championship against London, and a string of club matches. Not that he’s complaining. “I love playing with Mayo and the club is what got me where I am,” he says.
Words from the wise.