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ClubSpotting with Keith Higgins

Hollywood A-lister Bill Murray has been touring the golf clubs of Ireland doing some promotional work lately. Back in 1993 he starred in the cult comedy classic Groundhog Day where his character relives the same day over and over again. Unfortunately, the people of Mayo must feel like they are in a similar never ending time-loop. Another All-Ireland defeat on Saturday, means the curse of 1951 rolls on again. Will that matter to Mayo? Probably not. Like always, they’ll dust themselves down and go again next year in the hope that they can break the cycle. For the first time since 2006, the Mayo footballers started this season without one of their greatest ever players. Winning the Young Player of the Year in his maiden season was just the beginning for him as he fulfilled all the early promise to go on to become a true great of Mayo and the GAA itself. This week we went ClubSpotting with Keith Higgins to Ballyhaunis GAA Club.

What are your first memories of your club Ballyhaunis?

Earliest memories are of our underage training. It was always hurling training Saturday morning from 11 – 1 and the football training Sunday morning from 12 – 1. Can remember playing a few challenge games at u-10 when I was about 7 in hurling and then winning the Mick O’Connell cup in football which was a big deal when you’re 9 years of age!

Who were your sporting idols growing up?

The first games I remember being brought to by my father were Galway hurling games. In those days before the back door system, Galway used to always go straight to the All-Ireland semi-final, so I would have grown up idolising the likes of Joe Cooney, Michael McGrath, Tony Keady etc. As I got older and started getting more into football would have been looking up to the likes of David Nestor from our own club who was playing with Mayo at the time and the likes of James Nallen.

What has been the proudest moment of your playing career?

I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had lots of moments that I’m very proud of. Captaining Mayo to the Connacht title in 2015 was special, it was the first time we had done 5 in a row Connacht titles, captaining Mayo to the All-Ireland U21 in 2006 and brining the cup back to Ballyhaunis was also very special, winning both football and hurling county titles with the club in 2014. On a more personal/selfish note, winning my first All Star in 2012 was also a nice personal achievement.

Toughest opponent you have faced?

Impossible to pick one to be honest. I’ve been lucky (or unlucky) enough to mark some of the best in the game, Alan and Bernard Brogan, Stephen O’Neill, Stephen McDonnell, Gooch, Michael Meehan. I always wanted the job though of marking the best guys on the team. It always gave me a real focus and I liked the challenge and pressure of marking the best and reliance on you to try and stop them and do a big job for your team.

Best Player you have played with?

Again lots to choose from here, when I came into the Mayo panel first, there was the likes of Ciaran McDonald, James Nallen, Conor Mortimer, Andy Moran and then later Cillian O Connor but for me, the best player was Lee Keegan. Ciaran Mac was probably the most skilful but Lee is just the complete package. He’s so strong, athletic, great defender and can attack and score like a forward. We’ve seen him man mark some of the best forwards, keeping them quite but at the same time causing them trouble going forward and kicking crucial scores.

Any pre game rituals or superstitions?

Not really, I always used to try and stay as calm as possible and not waste any energy although the nerves would always be there! For me it was always just a case of taking confidence from knowing you had the work and preparation done and then trying to enjoy it as much as possible, even though that’s easier said than done!

What are your hopes and ambitions for the remainder of the season?

We’re back with the club now after finishing up with the Mayo hurlers and reaching the first goal of the year, winning the Nicky Rackard. So now we’d hope to retain the senior hurling championship and give the intermediate football a good shot.

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