An All-Ireland title remains elusive to him but Keith Higgins figures his inter-county career has gone on three times longer than he would have imagined.
Turning 35 next Tuesday, Mayo’s most decorated All-Star with four awards never imagined he would be playing 15 years after his debut, which came this month against Dublin in 2005.
“If you had told me then that I’d get five or six seasons, I’d have said that was good going. Look, the main thing is that I’ve been extremely lucky with injuries, that’s been the key. You’ll be long enough not playing it too, so you might as well stay going for as long as you can.”
Some players’ conversations with James Horan at the end of last season worked out differently but Higgins, despite not starting against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, left their meeting knowing he still had a role to play.
“It was fairly easy. Once I had a chat with James back in October or November time, it was a fairly easy decision to make. If you’re being given the opportunity you want to keep going for as long as you can.
Once we worked a few things out it was all good to go and I’m looking forward to it again. I just want to get back in there and play a few games at this stage.
Higgins knew well in advance that he was not in Horan’s plans to begin that last-four game — he came on for injured Donie Vaughan close to the half-hour mark.
“I remember speaking to James the week before and I knew myself I probably hadn’t been playing to the standard I needed to play to. So it probably wasn’t a huge surprise, either.
“I had missed the Meath game in the Super 8s with a bit of an injury and only lasted a few minutes against Donegal. Even in training, I knew I probably wasn’t where I needed to be performance-wise.
“So it wasn’t a huge surprise but it was definitely a disappointment. Nobody wants to be sitting on the bench watching a game, especially against Dublin. You want to be out there on the pitch.”
The long-term injury sustained by Colm Boyle means competition for places in defence won’t be as fierce although Higgins has youthful rivals in Pádraig O’Hora and Oisín Mullin.
“Yeah, in fairness Pádraig was there last year but didn’t get many games. This year, in fairness to him, he’s playing and is working his socks off. His performances are reflecting that hard-work.
“He’s been very solid for us in the last three games. Oisín has come in from the U20s and he’s a really good footballer with a very good engine.”
Lose to Monaghan in Clones on Sunday and Mayo will face an uphill battle to defend their Division 1 title. Instead, relegation will become more of a possibility. “Yeah, it’s a huge game,” nods Higgins.
Both of us are on three points. If you win this one you’ll move towards the top of the table but if you lose it you’re under pressure for the remainder of the games.
“At this stage, sometimes performances don’t matter. While you’d like to improve all the time, you just want to get the result, really.”