Keith Higgins says seeing Mayo hurling stalwarts being rewarded with a piece of success is the most satisfying part of the game after he was crowned the 2021 Nicky Rackard Player of the Year.

Last January Higgins announced his inter-county football retirement aged 35 after a superb career in the green and red. The Ballyhaunis man made 75 championship appearances over 16 seasons, winning eight Connacht titles and a National League.

The dual player did not walk away from hurling however, and in late July he helped Mayo sweep to triumph in the Nicky Rackard Cup final with a comprehensive defeat of Tyrone.

Reflecting on the differences between representing Mayo in football and hurling, he told RTÉ 2fm's Game On: "It's very hard to compare. Winning the Nicky Rackard is a big thing for the Mayo hurlers, but you're playing in Croke Park and there's probably a couple of hundred people.

"You play a football All-Ireland final and it's packed out with 82,000 and the noise levels are completely different.

"So it's hard to compare but you go back to what you get out of it and the sense of satisfaction after each game is very similar. Those things are the same regardless of who you're playing for, whether it's club or county.

"Look when you start off at the beginning of the year there's only one or two competitions you can actually win. When you get to the final stage and walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand, it's something that's really satisfying.

"You've reached your goal, it's what you wanted to achieve. Sometimes it's kind of hard to describe what that feeling is like but it's that sense of satisfaction that you get once the final whistle goes and you can look back and reflect on it."

Higgins paid tribute to the loyal army of hurling lovers that keep the flame alive, not just in Mayo but counties where the playing numbers are similarly small.

"You talk to any of the guys from the so-called weaker counties in hurling, and it's probably the same story in every single one," he added.

"There's little pockets in each county, small pockets of people who are keeping the game going.

"I think it does mean an awful lot to them when they see people they've coached for 20 or 30 years getting a bit of success on the big day. It's the people like that you feel more happy for... seeing all their hard work finally paying off."