Away from the playing field, January has proved a sombre month for the GAA in Ulster.
The death of Sean McGettigan (93), a father figure of the Association in the province, has now been followed by the passing of the legendary Mick Higgins who captained Cavan to their last All Ireland senior football title in 1952.
Higgins played for Cavan and Ulster with distinction from 1942 until 1953 winning a host of honours including three All Ireland medals.
Many leading Ulster GAA personalities including former Donegal and Ulster manager Brian McEniff and current Galway and provincial boss Joe Kernan joined in the tributes to Higgins.
“He was an outstanding player and a real gentleman. He was a pioneer in the sense that he helped Cavan to become the first Ulster county to make an impact at All Ireland level before the great Down side of the early 60’s came along,” said McEniff, who sought the advice of Higgins when preparing Donegal for their successful assault on the 1993 All Ireland football title.
Kernan, hailing Higgins as “a true giant of the game”, declared: “He led by splendid example and made a massive contribution to the image of Cavan and Ulster football.
“He left a rich legacy and his deeds will never be forgotten.”
Higgins, a mercurial forward who possessed pace, skill and finishing power, reserved one of his finest performances in the Cavan jersey for the 1947 All Ireland Final against Kerry in the Polo Grounds, New York when he scored 1-2 in a spectacular solo show. That match retains a special niche in the annals of GAA folklore chiefly because of the sublime input of Higgins.
In all he won three All Ireland medals (1947, ’48 and ’52), six Ulster Senior Championship medals, three Dr McKenna Cup honours, two Railway Cup gongs and two Cavan SFC medals with Bailieboro and Mountnugent during his glittering playing career.
He took over as Cavan manager in the 1960s and led the county to four Ulster senior football championship titles (1962, ’64, ’67 and ’69), a record of consistency that the Breffni side has been unable to match since then.
Last year Higgins was named at 36 in the Independent News and Media list of the best 125 footballers in the history of the GAA.