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5 senior title contenders

Sport

DRINKING IT IN Knockmore’s Kevin McLoughlin lifts the Moclair Cup after last year’s Mayo SFC Final win over Breaffy. Pic: Sportsfile

Feature

Mike Finnerty


TEAMS TO BEAT
Knockmore
THE defending champions remain at the head of the pack until somebody overtakes them.
Ray Dempsey would love only one thing more than winning the Moclair Cup last season, and that’s defending it again this time around.
There’s nothing easy about their group though with a home match against Aghamore (who they drew with in the opening round of the league) fraught with potential danger.
Charlestown and Belmullet are also potentially awkward opponents.
But while Knockmore have lost the element of surprise, their confidence will be bullet-proof given their new status and they have a young, talented squad that will take some beating.

Breaffy
HAVING lost two of the last three County Finals — and four of the last eight — the West Mayo lads certainly can’t be accused of not putting themselves in a position to win a first Moclair Cup.
But the longer the wait goes on, the more the pressure on them to get over the line.
Sound familiar?
Peter Ford and Shane Conway led Breaffy to two County Finals and made the team extremely hard to beat across league and championship. Now, Martin McIntyre has arrived armed with a wealth of experience from Mayo senior set-ups to try and finish the job.
A win at home to The Neale should set them up for another run to the last eight, and the hard work will start again from there.

IN THE MIX
Ballina Stephenites
LAST year’s semi-finalists have hit the ground running this season and last weekend’s dramatic win over Garrymore left them sitting pretty in top of Division 1A when the dust settled. Now they move on to the serious business of trying to get out of a championship group containing Ballintubber, Claremorris and Davitts.
That should be well within their compass, although new manager, Niall Heffernan, coach Eanna Casey, and Barry McLoughlin won’t be looking past their trip to Clogher next weekend.
The absence of Mikey Murray with a shoulder injury for the coming months is a blow as is an injury to the talented Frank Irwin that has him currently sidelined.
But assuming that Padraig O’Hora recovers from a knee injury, Ballina can call on nearly all of the squad that went on such a great run last season.
And they will be dangerous opponents for anyone.

Westport

AT some stage this young squad are going to have to take the step from ‘potential title contenders’ to ‘genuine title contenders’, and maybe this is the year it will happen.
Martin Calvey and Martin Connolly led them to a county semi-final in their first season in charge, and they certainly will have learnt a lot in defeat from that Breaffy game.
The group stages will ask some hard questions though, and a lot will depend on how their first game at home to Ballaghaderreen goes. A win there and everything opens up for the subsequent matches against Castlebar Mitchels and Balla.
But if they lose to Ballagh’ then the pressure will be on.

DARKHORSES
Ballagh’
VERY few people saw their collapse against Breaffy coming in last year’s quarter-final, but the appointment of Mike Solan and Andy Moran as joint managers means that Ballagh’ have a new feel about them this season.
Their first game against Westport has the potential to blow the group wide open, but injuries to David McBrien, Cian Hanley and Keith Rogers make things a little more difficult.
Young prospects like Paddy Callaghan, Adam Philips and Andy Dillon have a lot of potential, but David Drake, Shairoze Akram, Ryan Lynch, Kuba Callaghan and the aforementioned Andy Moran remain the main men.
They will be a hard nut to crack.

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