Keith Higgins sets aside All-Ireland agony to captain Mayo hurlers to Nicky Rackard Cup

Higgins, who scored seven points, five from play, finally enjoyed All-Ireland success at Croke Park
Keith Higgins sets aside All-Ireland agony to captain Mayo hurlers to Nicky Rackard Cup

Mayo captain Keith Higgins celebrates at Croke Park. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Mayo 2-27 Tyrone 1-14 

Keith Higgins proved that if at first you don't succeed then simply try again, setting aside his All-Ireland agony with the Mayo footballers to captain the county's hurlers to Nicky Rackard Cup success.

Eight months after coming up short as an unused substitute in last December's All-Ireland football decider, and seven since he retired from that code, the corner-forward finally enjoyed success at Croke Park.

The 36-year-old forward led by example too with a cracking display that yielded seven points, five of which came from play.

There were huge displays too from Cathal Freeman, who struck 1-4, and Sean Regan who sniped 1-3 during a commanding display from last year's runners-up.

It's Mayo's second title following their 2016 success and they were full value for the 16-point win with 11 different scorers over the course of the game.

Higgins was a class apart throughout and aside from his scoring, helped set up a second-half penalty that wasn't converted and also struck an important 42nd-minute point, snuffing out a potential Tyrone revival following a goal from the Ulster men.

Keith Higgins lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup for Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Keith Higgins lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup for Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Mayo were on point with their stickwork and clued in from the word go, hitting the game's first three points and a fifth-minute goal to move 1-3 to 0-1 clear.

Regan's goal summed up Mayo's industry as the attacker pounced on a turnover deep in the Tyrone defence and punished with a rifled shot to the net.

Tyrone, the 2014 champions, were already up against it and things only got worse for them as Mayo reeled off three points in a row before the water break to lead by 1-7 to 0-4.

Derek Walsh's westerners played a clever game with Freeman, wearing number 11, initially dropping deep and helping to provide a stable defensive platform.

Freeman took any scoring opportunities that came his way too and boomed over two long-range points in the second quarter.

Mayo struck 11 unanswered points between the 13th and 37th minutes to open up a huge 1-15 to 0-5 lead at half-time. Tyrone's cause wasn't helped by a Damian Casey penalty attempt that was saved in the 20th minute.

The Red Hands briefly rallied early in the second half with back-to-back Damian Casey points and a terrific solo goal from Conor Grogan but Higgins then struck that inspirational long-range score to halt Tyrone's momentum.

Freeman then grabbed Mayo's second goal three minutes later when he cut through the centre of Tyrone's defence and blasted low to the corner.

Mayo led 2-19 to 1-9 at the second water break and boss Walsh unloaded his bench, allowing Jason Coyne, Brian Morley, and Oisin Greally to come on and snatch points in the closing minutes.

Mayo scorers: Cathal Freeman 1-4, Keith Higgins 0-7 (0-1f, 0-1 65), Sean Regan 1-3, Shane Boland 0-3 (0-2f), Adrian Phillips 0-3, Brian Morley 0-2, Cormac Phillips 0-1, Sean Kenny 0-1 (0-1f), Jason Coyne 0-1, Gary Nolan 0-1, Oisin Greally 0-1.

Tyrone scorers: Damian Casey 0-9 (0-5f), Conor Grogan 1-0, Chris Kearns 0-3, Bryan McGurk 0-1, Tiernan Morgan 0-1.

Mayo: Bobby Douglas; Conor Daly, Michael Morley, Stephen Coyne; Gary Nolan, David Kenny, Conor Henry; John Cassidy, Sean Kenny; Cormac Phillips, Cathal Freeman, Sean Regan; Keith Higgins, Adrian Phillips, Shane Boland.

Subs: Brian Hunt for Cassidy 22-31, Pearse McCrann for Cassidy 47, Jason Coyne for Cormac Phillips 47, Hunt for Morley 58, Brian Morley for Adrian Phillips 61, Oisin Greally for Boland 67.

Tyrone: Conor McElhatton; Jarlath Kerr, Dean Rafferty, Sean Paul McKernan; Lorcan Devlin, Chris Kearns, Conor McNally; Ciaran Lagan, Michael Little; Conor Grogan, Bryan McGurk, Cain Ferguson; Rory Weir, Damian Casey, CJ McGourty.

Subs: Tiernan Morgan for Ferguson 31, Dermot Begley for McNally h/t, Padraig McHugh for McKernan 36-38, Sean Og Grogan for Weir 44, Sean Donaghy for Devlin 51-52, Sean Donaghy for Little 64.

Ref: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly).

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