Keith Higgins will focus on hurling for Mayo after football retirement

The 35-year-old dual star has spoken to Mayo hurling manager Derek Walsh
Keith Higgins will focus on hurling for Mayo after football retirement

Keith Higgins (right) celebrates with Brian Hunt and the cup after Mayo's Nicky Rackard Cup Final win over Armagh in 2016 Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Four-time All-Star Keith Higgins plans to resume his inter-county hurling career with Mayo after confirming his retirement from the football setup.

The 35-year-old dual star has spoken to hurling manager Derek Walsh, a fellow Ballyhaunis man, and will rejoin the squad that he helped to win the Division 2B hurling league title in 2018.

Higgins lifted that cup jointly with captain Cathal Freeman but returned to the football setup for the 2018 Championship and lined out in the Connacht opener against Galway.

He was a virtual ever-present for the footballers in 2019, winning a League medal, but started just one competitive game in 2020 and only appeared once as a sub in the Championship, sitting out December's All-Ireland final.

Weeks later he called it quits along with five other ultra-experienced footballers but has no plans to settle into a quiet retirement.

Speaking on Midwest Radio's Sunday Sports Show this afternoon, Higgins said of a hurling return: "That's the plan at the moment. I spoke with Derek at the beginning of the week. He was happy that I was available and I'd be more than happy to go in. As long as the body is able to go I'll give it a try anyway and we'll see where it goes."

Speedy defender Higgins became surplus to requirements in the 2020 Championship as James Horan looked to young defenders Oisin Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin, both of whom were nominated for All-Stars.

Both have also been nominated for the Young Footballer of the Year award, along with colleague Tommy Conroy, underlining the rising talent in Horan's squad.

"James coming in for his second term, particularly probably the year gone by, we realised there was going to be a big change of personnel," said Higgins.

"It probably did need an injection of youth and in fairness to the likes of Oisin, Eoghan, Tommy, those guys got their chance and grabbed it with both hands and didn't look out of place at any stage throughout the Championship.

"There's a few more guys in there as well from the U-20s last year and the year before, Jack Coyne, David McBrien, and those guys and if they were thrown in they wouldn't look out of place either. It's promising.

"You just have to hope you get a couple like that every year to drive things on and to keep everyone on their toes."

Higgins — who joins Donal Vaughan, Tom Parsons, Chris Barrett, David Clarke and Seamus O'Shea in inter-county football retirement — admitted he simply couldn't reach the required levels.

"I just didn't feel that I'd be able to get to a level of performance that I'd be happy with or where I'd be able to compete," he said.

"That was kind of what made up my mind when I reflected back on it. It was really towards the end of the year that I made up my mind."

Some of the tributes since his retirement announcement focused on his role in the memorable 2006 All-Ireland semi-final defeat of Dublin.

"It's funny, listening to things over the last week or so, people saying (complimentary things) about that game but the reality is that Alan Brogan took me to the cleaners for the first 40 minutes of it. There was a lot of that game that I wouldn't look back on quite fondly, apart from the last 10 minutes."

As for his legendary pace, Higgins said it came in handy.

"When I came into the panel first of all, 2005, 2006, probably for the first three or four years, my speed would have got me out of a lot of trouble.

"It would have got me out in front of forwards a lot of the time. For a corner-back, that's a big plus. I wouldn't have been as comfortable or as skilful as I would have been towards the end of my career. Only for I had that speed, I mightn't have made it at all. It definitely came in handy at times."

** The full interview with Keith Higgins on Midwest Radio can be accessed here

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