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'If you'd asked me in 2005 would I be there for 16 years, I'd have said I'd be doing well to be there for six months'

Mayo stalwart Keith Higgins on his inter-county retirement, how ‘lucky’ he was to get so long and his future with the county’s hurlers.

Recently-retired Mayo defender Keith Higgins.
Recently-retired Mayo defender Keith Higgins.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

MAYO STALWART KEITH Higgins has spoken out about his decision to call time on his inter-county career after 16 seasons, saying he has no regrets.

The four-time All-Star defender told RTÉ 2fm’s Game On last night that the knowledge that he would not be able to maintain the standards he’s set himself was ultimately the deciding factor.

Higgins, 35, is the sixth Green and Red player to retire since the start of 2020; following in the footsteps of Donal Vaughan, David Clarke, Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea and Chris Barrett when he announced his retirement from inter-county football on Saturday.

Having also has also lined out for the Mayo hurlers in the past, he hopes to continue in that capacity.

“I’d made the decision about two weeks ago and spoke to James [Horan] about it,” the Ballyhaunis clubman said of his football exit.

“I’m well happy with the decision at this stage. That’s the way it goes. Time moves on. We just have to get over these things I suppose.

“It was more of a case of looking back on the season, looking at how the body was, and then seeing if I could get back to the level I wanted to get to. I just didn’t think it was going to be possible and I didn’t want to go through the year fighting a losing battle and getting frustrated with things.”

Higgins, widely regarded as one of the finest defenders of the modern era, enjoyed a colourful career, also excelling in attacking positions at times.

He was afforded less game time in recent seasons — keeping a low profile over the winter which ended in more All-Ireland final heartbreak at the hands of Dublin — but steps away from the squad with eight Connacht SFC medals and a National League honour from 2019. 

Understandably, plaudits have come from far and wide for the man who made 75 championship appearances, won All-Stars in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017 and was named All-Star Young Footballer of the Year in ’06.

“I returned to work on Monday after a career break of 12 months so it hasn’t really sunk in just yet,” he continued. “There’s plenty of time for that, and plenty of time to reminisce about the good days.

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“It’s only when you see texts coming through from players you’d have played against… that really gives you an appreciation for some of the battles we had with lads down the years.

I got a text today from one of the Dublin guys. They’re not the type of texts you expect to get at two or three in the afternoon. It’s stuff like that that kicks home the whole thing of, as much as want to try and beat these guys when you’re playing against them, there is that mutual respect there, that they’re going through the same thing year in, year out.

“I have to very appreciative of [my career]. I had 16 seasons with Mayo. If you’d asked me back in 2005 when I made my debut against Dublin would I be there for 16 years I’d have said I’d be doing well to be there for six months. 

“I look back on it with a lot of pride I’ve been extremely lucky that I haven’t had any really bad injuries. I was able to get most years injury free. I was lucky to get so long, to get a good run at it.”

The “tough” defeats certainly took a toll through the years, Higgins concedes, one of his most difficult days the All-Ireland semi-final replay loss to Kerry in Limerick in 2014.

“There’s so much expectation,” he added. “You put so much expectation on yourself as well to be successful. Then you lose a game like that, it can leave you very down for a couple of weeks. It does take a while to get over.

“That’s the joy of sport. We’d some very good days out as well. There’s nearly always another game around the corner. In fairness to that Mayo team, they epitomise that. They keep coming back every year and give it another go.

That was always my attitude every year. As long as I thought I was able to go back and contribute something, why not?”

While bidding farewell to those he has soldiered with for so long has been difficult, Higgins is keen to look to the future, where he’ll continue to hurl for his county.

“I spoke to the hurling manager Derek Walsh at the beginning of the week as well. I said as long as I was able to give it a go I’d come back in with them. It’s always been a passion of mine to play hurling as well.”

You can listen back to the full interview from 22 minutes here>

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Emma Duffy

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