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Mick Higgins Exiled From New York To Kilnaleck & Became Legendary Cavan Footballer
The journey across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 took five year old Michael Higgins, of New York (born on 22nd August 1922) to the Cavan village of his mother and a football career of outstanding achievements. Cavan already was a county steeped in gaelic football folklore, and won All Ireland senior football titles in 1933 (first ever All Ireland title) and 1935, captained respectively by Big Jim Smith and Hugh O’Reilly.
On return from America, the family settled in Kilnaleck and later moved to Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo, the native heath of Mick’s dad. However the parents decided that Mick should complete his primary schooling in Kilnaleck and it wasn’t long before the New York born schoolboy became acquainted with the rough and tumble of gaelic football Cavan style.
When Mick on moved to Kildare as a teenager to obtain work, he was chosen on the Lily Whites minor team, but eventually he found his spiritual home when Cavan handed Mick a junior football debut in 1942, aged twenty. His great performances were noted in the junior grade and it was inevitable that the senior management would come calling very soon on the door of the American gaelic footballer.
As Mick passed through the juvenile grades, it became apparent he was adapting very successfully with gaelic football, and by his 21st birthday, he made his senior championship debut for Cavan against Monaghan in the Ulster championship. Football was always the dominant sports code in Cavan and the ambition of every young boy, was to be seen wearing the Cavan royal blue jersey.
Mick Higgins progressed in 1943 to claim his first Ulster senior medal and he followed up with further provincial senior titles in1944/’45/'47/'48/
’49/ and '52, to complete a great haul of 7 Ulster titles. The Cavan selectors regularly played Mick in the forwards, and it was wearing the No. 11 jersey that marked him out as one of the All Time Greats of forwards in the history of gaelic football.
The Cavan legend played in five All Ireland senior football finals, and records indicate, he was not involved in the 1945 final V Cork, and many contend, he was the difference between winning and losing that final.
The historic 1947 All Ireland final took Mick back to his native New York to play in the oppresive heat that invaded both Kerry and Cavan players at the famed Polo Grounds. In a memorable encounter Mick Higgins made a huge contribution and claimed his first Celtic Cross medal in the land of his birth. Cavan regrouped for the 1948 Ulster and All Ireland series, and to their credit they put the 1947 celebrations on hold, and defeated Mayo in the All Ireland final. A triumph of mixed emotions for Mick Higgins, defeating his fathers native county.
1952 would prove to be the swansong year of Mick’s Croke Park exhibitions and in analysing his final performance v Meath, the Irish Independant were lavish in praise of the Cavan legend. As Cavan captain on that glorious occasion he strode the field majestically, was announced as the Man Of The Match and further rewarded by the Indo as the 1952 best centre forward of all time and selected as The Supreme Sportsman for 1952.
Two National Football League titles were also claimed in 1947/’48 and also in 1949/’50. In the latter year Cavan won the ’Home’ final, but lost to New York at Croke Park in the series final.
Railway Cup medals were annexed in 1947 and 1950.
Mick Higgins died on the 28th January 2010 and left a rich legacy of golden memories for fans of gaelic games.
Derry JF Doody