Keith Higgins wasn’t told to skip hurling, says Mayo’s Noel Connelly

Mayo manager Noel Connelly has denied an ultimatum was handed to captain Keith Higgins to choose football over hurling this year.

Higgins didn’t line out for the Mayo hurlers last weekend in their Christy Ring Cup opener, bringing a premature end to his dual status in the county, but Connelly has ruled out any involvement from the Mayo management in that decision.

According to Connelly, who also skippered Mayo, he would never stand in the way of anyone wanting to represent their county, but he does believe that playing both codes is nigh on impossible nowadays.

Higgins was handed the captaincy this year for the first time and Connelly thinks that added responsibility and Higgins turning 30 earlier this year meant he reached the decision off his own bat.“To be fair, while we are not disappointed he is not playing both codes, we would not stop a player from playing for their county,” said Connelly.

“We would say, at this stage of his life, a weekend of two codes was too much for him. The decision was his. He could play if he had the desire, but he is now captain of our team I think he feels one code is maybe enough for him at this time.

“Keith is 30 years of age and captain of our team and instrumental to our plans. (In the past) he could play two games, hurling one day and club football the next day and come back.

“Keith at this stage in his career has managed to do that quite well but in the last few years I think Keith probably realised one code is enough for him.”

It has been an up-and-down season so far for the new Mayo management, who failed to make the Division 1 semi-finals but retained their top-flight status along the way. Key to their hopes of claiming a fifth Connacht title in a row is getting Cillian O’Connor back to full fitness following his knee injury, but the Ballintubber man is rated as a doubtful starter for their provincial semi-final against Galway or Leitrim.

“Cillian is back light jogging at the moment so he should be able for football training in two to three weeks time,” said Connelly.

“That will leave him with just two weeks before the championship game so it’s going to be unlikely that he is going to start for us, but we will see how he responds to the treatment.

“He has not played since the Derry game. He had minor keyhole surgery. It had been ongoing so it had been there for a while so hopefully this will park it and that he will have a free run for the summer.”

Major holes were picked in the Mayo game-plan during the league, when Dublin inflicted a 14-point defeat on the Green and Red at MacHale Park.

Connelly admits Mayo were ‘naïve’ that day as they tried to take on a counter-attacking Dublin in a 15v15 game of traditional football.

“We were a bit naïve in that respect. Dublin are the team to beat, there is no doubt. “Whether or not their fitness is at too high a level at this stage of the campaign, I don’t know, but they seem to have all the aces at the moment.”

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