By John Harrington
He made his debut back in 2005 and will turn 35 next week, but Keith Higgins didn’t have to think twice about committing to Mayo for the 2020 campaign.
He’s in his 16th season of inter-county football now, but his competitive flame burns as hot as it did back when he made his debut in a League match against Dublin in 2005.
So when he sat down with Mayo manager James Horan at the end of last year, he didn’t need to be persuaded or cajoled to give another year to the cause.
“Ah, no, it was fairly easy,” said Higgins. “Once I had a chat with James back in October or November time it was a fairly easy decision to make.
“If you're being given the opportunity you want to keep going for as long as you can. Once we worked a few things out it was all good to go and I'm looking forward to it again. I just want to get back in there and play a few games at this stage.
“First of all, you have to enjoy what you're doing. And if you have that competitive nature then you want to be going out there and testing yourself whether it's in training or its in games. Everyone wants to play games because they enjoy it, but you want to be winning things too.
“I think that competitive streak is definitely a big part of it and I'll keep going as long as the body is still able to go.”
The four-time All-Star is one of the greatest footballers (and hurlers) that Mayo has produced, but he knows there are no guarantees about selection at this stage of his career.
Not starting last year’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Dublin was a bitter pill to swallow at the time, but he’s honest enough to admit now his form probably didn’t warrant selection.
“It was tough, alright,” says Higgins. “I remember speaking to James the week before and I knew myself I probably hadn't been playing to the standard I needed to play to. So, it probably wasn't a huge surprise, either.
“I had missed the Meath game in the Super Eights with a bit of an injury and only lasted a few minutes against Donegal. Even in training I knew I probably wasn't where I needed to be, performance-wise.
“So it wasn't a huge surprise, but it was definitely a disappointment. Nobody wants to be sitting on the bench watching a game, especially against Dublin, you want to be out there on the pitch.”
He’s had to watch from the sidelines so far this season again with his only outing coming as a late substitute in the opener against Donegal.
James Horan has been giving players like Padraig O’Hoara and Oisin Mullin the chance to impress, and so far the promising duo have grasped the opportunity with both hands.
“Yeah, in fairness Padraig was there last year but didn't get many games,” says Higgins. “This year, in fairness to him, he's playing and is working his socks off. He's performances are reflecting that hard-work. He's been very solid for us in the last three games.
“Oisin has come in from the U-20s and he's a really good footballer with a very good engine. The two boys have been really big additions, especially with a few boys out injured.
“You need new fellas like this coming through. Hopefully they'll keep going from strength to strength.”
Higgins is giving any bit of help he can to the younger players in the Mayo panel, but he’s not about to stand aside either and happily allow them take a jersey he still covets himself.
“Yeah, it's important that the experienced guys offer that bit of advice to the younger lads,” he says.
“But you have to balance that with helping them all you can but also you want to start yourself. It's a fine line, but you have to look at the bigger picture and the more lads we have coming through the better.”
What he describes as “a few small bits of niggly injuries” are now out of the way and Higgins is hoping he gets some game-time in Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division 1 clash against Monaghan in Clones.
Both teams have won one, drawn one, and lost one of their three matches to date, and Sunday’s result will go a long way to shaping the remainder of their respective League campaigns.
Yeah, it's a huge game,” said Higgins. “Both of us are on three points. If you win this one you'll move towards the top of the table but if you lose it you're under pressure for the remainder of the games. So it's going to be a huge one for either team.
“At this stage sometimes performances don't matter. While you'd like to improve all the time, you just want to get the result really in this sort of situation. A huge game for both teams.”