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Mayo defender Higgins back where he belongs

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Keith Higgins is pictured at MacHale Park, Castlebar last week.
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?Keith Higgins is pictured at MacHale Park, Castlebar last week.?Pic: Sportsfile

Back where he belongs


Keith Higgins believes that 'a Connacht medal is to be cherished'

Interview
Mike Finnerty

SITTING comfortably in a chair in MacHale Park last week, a relaxed Keith Higgins was at his engaging best as he shot the breeze ahead of his eighth Connacht Final next Sunday.
Sporting a beard (“Don’t worry I’m not doing a Gordon D’Arcy or one of the McMahons on it,” he joked when asked about its significance. “I’ve just been too lazy to shave.”) and in his regulation Mayo gear, he looked every inch the seasoned professional.
He sounded it too, considering each question carefully and being open and honest in his responses. It was refreshing.
“Galway will be coming ‘all guns blazing’ after the hiding they got last year and, for us, we’re playing our biggest rivals here on our home patch. If you can’t get up for a game like that, then nothing will motivate you,” was the 29 year-old’s assessment of the challenge that awaits Mayo on Sunday.
“It’s a Connacht Final, a Connacht medal is to be cherished, and a win will take us back to Croke Park.”
And the prospect of winning four Connacht Senior Championships in-a-row for the first time since you-know-when?
“I honestly didn’t know until a few weeks ago that the last time it was done was 1951,” he smiled. “It’s been mentioned a few times but it’s not a big factor for us. Winning a Connacht Final was one of our goals at the start of the year, and that’s still the case.”
After spending 11 of the previous 12 games away from corner-back, the All Star number four returned to his natural habitat for the start of this summer’s championship in New York.
The project of using Higgins as a line-breaking, hole-punching half-forward would seem to have been concluded after a particularly poor day at the office against Derry in the League semi-final at Croke Park; seven touches and a second half substitution triggering a rethink from James Horan.
“I don’t know what happened that day to be honest,” reflected the man himself. “I thought I hadn’t done too bad in the forwards against Dublin in the league, in Croke Park there’s a lot more space so you enjoy it a bit more out the field.
“I didn’t get on the ball much against Derry, and when I did, it didn’t go really well. It was just one of the those days. It was a funny game, a lot of fellas fell flat. You just analyse it a little bit and move on.”
Speaking of analysis, somebody mentions Liam McHale’s comments after the draw with Dublin during the Spring when he said that Mayo ‘didn’t have the smarts or tactical know-how to close out big games’.
“You can see where he’s coming from, I suppose,” replied Higgins. “Obviously we should have won the Dublin game and maybe there was some bad decision making at times in that game that cost us.
“Against Derry, we didn’t play smart enough either and, at the time, you might be a small bit worried about it. But there’s no point getting bogged down in it too much.”
The Mayo camp took a similar approach to the recent semi-final win over Roscommon, although Higgins admitted that one aspect of the display did leave him puzzled.
“We knew they were going to set up defensively, but probably the most disappointing thing was how long it took us to react to that,” he explained.
“You have to be patient on the ball, we tried to force it a little bit when we had the wind behind us, instead of just holding on to the ball, going through the phases, and waiting for gaps to open up. But once we got level, I had a feeling we’d go on to win it.”
Minutes later he was gone, bounding down the stairs to head back home to Ballyhaunis.
Ready to go again.

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