Local tribes go to war
MAYO throws open its fixture list on Sunday to the first round of the club championships, the finals of which will not be reached until the autumn.
It’s a long quest for glory and while the leagues continue to fill the hiatus the gulf separating the first rounds of the championships from the play-offs is a concern for coaches trying to keep teams motivated.
Yet opinions are at one about the likely survivors. No dark horse has arrived on the scene so far it would seem to bother the three or four teams favoured to hammer out the final placings.
Ballintubber, Castlebar, Knockmore, Ballina and maybe Breaffy head the list of preferences, and while Stagg Betting has installed Castlebar Mitchels as 2/1 favourites to take the Moclair Cup, consensus leans towards the champions to make it three in a row.
Caution is advised in choosing the new favourites . . . at least until they return from Bangor at the weekend where they make acquaintance with Kiltane in a game likely to attract the attention of every contender for the title.
Kiltane are not among the preferred qualifiers, but on home turf they have the ability to trample on other dreams. Last year they humbled Knockmore in their lair, and were a mite unfortunate not to lower the colours of Breaffy away.
No doubt emigration will have hit the club hard these past couple of years. Rory Corrigan and David Cuffe are the latest to bow out. But nothing inspires Kiltane like their own folk on their own patch, and you can bet on big performances from the likes of Shane Lindsay, Mikey Sweeney, Edmond Barrett, Ultan Corrigan and the Gaughans to offset whatever advantage the Mitchels might hold in terms of skill and balance.
The visitors will tread wearily no doubt and it will be a test of the survival ability of their stars, of the likes of Barry Moran, the Feeney brothers, Ger McDonagh, Niall Lydon and Ronan O’Boyle, in the toughest of environments.
It’s a game in which they could do with Danny Kirby who has picked up a hamstring problem and may not be ready for this big battle. But if they are to maintain the faith the bookies have in them victory is essential. And it could go any way.
Nor will the champions find it easy to shake off the tenacity of neighbours Breaffy, even on their own ground. There was little enough between them in their recent league clash, and this will be one hell of a tussle.
Ballintubber expect back county stars Alan Dillon and Cillian O’Connor, and in any company these guys figure large. Add to them the bristling qualities of Gary Loftus, Myles Kelly, Danny Geraghty, Jason Gibbons (if fit) and the in-form Padraic O’Connor, and the balance tilts slightly away from the visitors.
But Breaffy have a physically strong side. Kevin Scahill, Gerry Jennings, Seamus O’Shea, Tommy Canavan and Peter Dravins are dogged and determined, and if by some sort of miracle Aidan O’Shea was thrown into the mix at some stage, goodness knows what dramatics might infuse the Breaffy men. Advantage Ballintubber though.
If there is a dark horse it is Westport who make the journey to Ballina, and the Stephenites will be wary of a side inching their way into the domain of the big guys.
With Tomás Tierney at the helm they have already shocked Shrule/Glencorrib, Ballaghaderreen and, significantly, Knoockmore. Leadership springs not only from Mayo stars Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane but also from a host of other sources, not least Gary Keane and Eugene O’Toole at midfield.
Tradition favours the Stephenites, however, who last held the title five years ago. They have been struggling to regain their old form these last few years, but on their home patch they are still a formidable outfit, and with Anthony McGarry now in charge are expected to make an impact on the championship.
Pat Harte and Ronan McGarrity are big-time players, and with young Evan Regan showing the way up front, you can’t dismiss their chances.
After a facile league win over Shrule/Glencorrib, fancied Knockmore took a tumble against Westport and will thus be more weary of the journey south. The loss to Westport may be a blessing in disguise, however, and a motivating factor for Ray Dempsey.
Without the Mortimers, Shrule/Glencorrib are a pale shadow of the past but the Ronaldson brothers, the Walshs and Kieran Conroy will ensure stiffer resistance on their home ground than they provided in Knockmore.
Still smarting from the loss to Westport, however, there will be a lot more cutting from Declan Sweeney, Shane McHale, Kevin McLoughlin, James Ruddy and Aidan Kilcoyne on this occasion, and another loss is not foreseen.
Ballinrobe make the journey to Crossmolina more in hope than confidence. How could it be otherwise for a club that has lost so many players through emigration and injury.
Even so, they made Ballina sweat for a while in their league duel, and they have sufficient talent in the likes of Donal Vaughan, the experienced Sean Grimes, Ronan Macken, Mark Walkin and Micheál Keane to trouble Crossmolina too.
The Deelsiders have not yet recovered sufficiently from the departure of the Nallens to threaten the favourites. But Ciaran McDonald is still a powerful exemplar and together with Peadar Gardiner, Ronan Rochford, Mark Leonard, Gabriel Walsh, and their prolific scorer Ian Rowland have enough influence to make the difference.
There will be a great Battle in Ballindine between Davitts and Claremorris, a toss-up between them, and I think Garrymore maybe too good for Aghamore, and Ballaghaderreen for Tourmakeady.
Indo’ picks their ‘best’ Mayo team
THE Irish Independent published their best football selection of each county over fifty years in a recent supplement, and methinks their research carried little farther than the best chosen by this writer some two years ago.
In personnel there is a difference of three . . . Kenneth Mortimer in place of the Mayo News selection of Willie Casey; David Heaney instead of Ger Feeney and the Independent’s choice of Alan Dillon elbowing out Mick Ruane.
They are changes with which we would not disagree since selections of this nature are subjective opinions. We found it difficult to omit Mortimer and Heaney from our selection, and Dillon is chosen clearly on solid consistency delivered over almost a decade.
Significantly, Martin Carney is also the choice of the Independent on the best of Donegal with whom he won a couple of Ulster medals before taking up residence in Mayo.
The Independent team: Eugene Lavin; Kenneth Mortimer, Ray Prendergast, Demot Flanagan; David Heaney, John Morley, James Nallen; W. J. Padden, T. J. Kilgallon; Martin Carney, Ciaran McDonald, Joe Corcoran; Kevin McStay, Liam McHale, Alan Dillon.
The Mayo News team: E Lavin; W Casey, R Prendergast, D Flanagan; G Feeney, J Morley, J Nallen; WJ Padden, TJ Kilgallon; M Carney, L McHale, J Corcoran; C McDonald, M Ruane, K McStay.
McGarrity back in mayo fold
I DON’T know what sparked off the call for the return of Ronan McGarrity to the Mayo squad, but back he is . . . for a three-week trial, it is said.
Management has every right to be concerned about the inadequacy of recent midfield performances especially in the absence of Aidan O¹Shea. But they ought also to be careful about stepping outside the squad for players who have not reached the same level of fitness.
McGarrity had been one of our outstanding fielders, one of the few who could read midfield play, who knew when to be back and when to be forward . . . and, especially, when to be accessible on a wing.
But the form of the Ballina Stephenites¹ man has dipped this last couple of years and he did not cover himself in glory in last year¹s semi-final.
If the form of the old days has returned he would be a welcome boost to the manager’s plans.
In the meantime, James Horan could do worse than keep an eye on 21-years-old Gary Keane of Westport as a midfield prospect, and on Eugene O’Toole . . . for industry.
Just a thought …
WAS it Roscommon’s collapse or Galway’s brilliance that led to a one-sided Connacht semi-final on Sunday? A bit of both perhaps . . . enough to warn Mayo of the dangers lurking in Pearse Stadium.