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Senior championship previews


COMING THROUGH Ballintubber’s Keelan McDonnell gets tackled by Mayo Gaels' Alan Brennan during last weekend's Mayo SFC round one clash in Clogher. Pic: Conor McKeown

Group 1

Mayo Gaels v The Neale

Saturday, September 10
Mayo Abbey at 5pm
Referee: J Glavey

TWO teams who received rude awakenings about life in the Mayo senior club championship in round one meet in Mayo Abbey in a de facto ‘play-off’ to avoid a relegation play-off down the line.
The Gaels only scored three points from play last weekend against Ballintubber and paid dearly for some early missed goal chances.
But playing ‘Tubber in Clogher is one thing, welcoming a Neale team low on confidence after being hammered by Westport is quite another.
The Neale are coming off the back of a 0-29 defeat on a day they only scored three points.
David Coyle’s team were always going to be up against it going out without Tommy Conroy, Aidan O’Sullivan, Padraic Walsh, Steven Conroy, and Gavin O’Haire.
But the manner of that landslide defeat is either going to make them or break them.
Mayo Gaels know that a win here is almost certain to see them safe in senior for 2023.
They will have learned a lot from the experience of coming up against a battle-hardened Ballintubber outfit, and James Fallon will know there is so much more in Liam Hughes, Ruairi Keane, Ethan Henry and the Gallagher brothers.
These two teams will know each other well from O’Mara Cup battles and the likes over the years, but it’s hard to see The Neale having enough to deny last year’s Intermediate champions getting the first senior win they crave.

VERDICT: Mayo Gaels

Group 1
Westport v Ballintubber

Saturday, September 10
Westport at 5pm
Referee: G McMahon

THE match of the day features two of the genuine challengers to Knockmore’s crown.
Given the quality of players on show, and the local geography involved in this rivalry, there is bound to be a huge crowd at St Patrick’s Park on Saturday evening.
Both teams won their first round matches impressively last weekend so both will hit this game with real momentum and neither will want to lose any.
Westport welcomed back most of their big hitters last weekend (Colm Moran was among the absentees) and put 3-15 from play on The Neale, but whether Martin Connolly and Shane Conway learned a whole pile from the exercise is debatable.
Ballintubber are unlikely to have either Bryan Walsh or Michael Plunkett back for this weekend, but manager Enda Gilvarry will be happy with the way that young players like Stephen Burke and Josh Mahon are integrating with the elder statesmen.
Jason Gibbons continues to produce the goods on the big days while Keelan McDonnell, Hugh Geraghty and Stephen O’Malley also caught the eye on day one.
The prospect of match-ups like Eoghan McLaughlin on Cillian O’Connor; Fionn McDonagh on Diarmuid O’Connor; and Jason Gibbons crossing paths with Lee Keegan are just some of the reasons why there is so much interest in this game.
Westport beat the ‘Tubber in the league by two points, and while both teams were below full-strength, it is likely to be as close, or closer, again this time around.
The loss of Bryan Walsh and Michael Plunkett might just tip the scales.

VERDICT: Westport

Group 2
Aghamore v Ballaghaderreen

Saturday, September 10
Aghamore at 5pm
Referee: E McAndrew

ANOTHER local derby with everything to play for should draw a big crowd.
Ballagh’s draw with the Stephenites last weekend earned them a precious point and puts even more pressure on Aghamore to win here following their defeat to Knockmore.
Paddy Finnegan, Dessie Campbell and Martin Hunt will be wondering this week how Aghamore lost their way so badly in the second half against the county champions.
No score for 23 minutes cost them dearly, as did conceding 2-4 during the third quarter.
Address and fix that ‘black-out’ and they will feel they have every chance of getting a result.
They played controlled and measured football in the first half the last day with wing-back Tom O’Flaherty and Fergal Boland (in patches) showing what they are capable of.
They also ‘won’ the last fifteen minutes by 0-5 to 0-1.
Ballagh’ are a different team with David McBrien, David Drake and Cian Hanley back on the field again. Throw in Andy Moran as an impact sub’ and you can see how they got a result against Ballina.
Paul McHugh may be concerned though that only two of Ballagh’s starting forwards scored in round one — the impressive Kuba Callaghan and Sharoize Akram.
They will need others to step up and ask questions of Aghamore’s defensive forcefield.
The league game between the teams finished 4-9 to 4-7 to Aghamore; this is unlikely to be as open and high-scoring. Ballagh’ can turn the tables if they bring their ‘A’ game.

VERDICT: Ballagh’

Group 2
Ballina v Knockmore

Sunday, September 11
Ballina at 2pm
Referee: P Lydon

THE rivalry between these two clubs has been rekindled in recent years, and this is another great chance for them to crank things up a notch.
Knockmore got the defence of their county title off to a winning start in round one but the Stephenites dropped a point away to Ballagh’ and so now have very little room for slip-ups.
Niall Heffernan had to manage without the injured Padraig O’Hora the last day while Evan Regan had only flown in from America the night before the game, and Ciaran Treacy has gone abroad.
The return of O’Hora and Regan would strengthen Ballina’s hand considerably.
The fact that the outstanding Frank Irwin shot seven (six frees) of the Stephenites’ ten points last Saturday evening means that Regan’s return can’t come quick enough.
Knockmore did what they had to do in round one and showed yet again they are the team to beat. Once they picked up the pace and moved the ball fast, they were unstoppable.
A blitz of 2-4 in the third quarter was them at their best.
Being outscored by 0-5 to 0-1 in the last 15 minutes though won’t have sat well with them.
Still, Ray Dempsey will know that derbies like this always bring out the best in his team.
Assuming that the likes of Seán Holmes, Kevin McLoughlin, Darren McHale, Aidan Orme and Peter Naughton can bring their best form then the champions should stay unbeaten.
Such an outcome would leave Ballina in a tight corner.

VERDICT: Knockmore

Group 3
Breaffy v Balla

Saturday, September 10
Breaffy at 5pm
Referee: L Devenney

BALLA have waited a long time to get a shot at their neighbours in the senior championship and next Saturday evening is their big chance.
Whether they can make it count, and bounce back from a very painful and narrow defeat to Belmullet last Sunday, is another thing.
Ger Butler will have been busy this week, trying to rally the Balla troops, working on trying to cut out the mistakes that cost them crucial goals, and also planning for the likes of Mattie Ruane and Aidan O’Shea.
Because unless Balla limit the influence of the two Mayo lads, they are in serious bother.
Claremorris found that out the hard way last weekend with Ruane running the show from midfield and Aidan O’Shea proving a real handful at full-forward, scoring three points.
Throw in the impressive displays of Mark Dervan, Davitt Neary and Stephen McDermott, and it all added to a good day’s work for Breaffy.
But they will get nothing near as easy against Balla, who will bring physicality, intensity and a fierce work-rate from the off. At least that will be the plan.
They will also be hoping that Cillian Golding, Gary McHale and Conor Walsh can ask enough questions of a Breaffy backline that enjoyed a quiet day against Claremorris.
Ultimately, this game is likely to boil down to how Ruane and the O’Shea brothers perform. If they lead then the rest of the Breaffy lads will follow.
We think they will eventually wear Balla down.

VERDICT: Breaffy

Group 3
Belmullet v Claremorris

Sunday, September 11
Tallagh at 4pm
Referee: J Henry

THE last place that Claremorris will want to be going next Sunday is Belmullet.
With their confidence rattled by a disappointing display and defeat against Breaffy, now the South Mayo lads face a trip to the home of last year’s county finalists, a team notoriously hard to beat in Tallagh.
So the starting point for Claremorris has to be getting back to basics; and matching Liam McHale’s team in all the fundamentals like work-rate, intensity and physicality.
If they don’t then it’s going to be another long day for Kevin Beirne’s charges.
James McCormack’s form at midfield is one reason for them to be optimistic and there is much more in both James Shaughnessy and Conor Diskin than they showed last Sunday, scoring just one point apiece.
Belmullet, on the other hand, will be bouncing after beating Balla on the back of Ronan Murray’s hat-trick. To get that result without so many established players, including Ryan O’Donoghue, was no mean achievement.
Even if Balla were the architects of their own downfall to a large degree.
Apart from the aforementioned Murray, Belmullet got good displays out of Shea O’Donoghue, Owen McHale and the veteran Eamon McAndrew, who shot three points.
At home, and with a win under their belts, they look the much safer bet to win here.

VERDICT: Belmullet

Group 4
Charlestown v Garrymore

Sunday, September 11
Charlestown at 2pm
Referee: J Walker

A LOT of people almost ended up eating humble pie last weekend when Charlestown pushed the Mitchels to the pin of their collar and only lost out by a point in the end.
Stephen Healy obviously pushed the right buttons in the build-up and on the day, and the intensity they brought seemed to spook the Mitchels and knocked them out of their stride.
Now the question is can Charlestown deliver another big performance against one of the strongest teams in the competition?
Garrymore took care of business efficiently against Davitts without injured trio Enda Hession, Gary Golden and Liam Óg Horkan with a typically industrious display; scoring 2-10 and conceding only 0-7.
On paper they look too strong for the Sarsfields but try telling that to the McLoughlin brothers, Enda and Gerry, Paddy Goldrick, Gareth O’Donnell and Paul Towey.
Not putting enough scores on the board ultimately cost Charlestown the last day; six of their ten points came from Towey frees while Jack Mahon was held scoreless.
They will need Towey to catch fire and Mahon to do likewise if they are to have any chance of causing an upset.
In truth, Garrymore are too experienced and have too much to lose to be ambushed.

VERDICT: Garrymore

Group 4
Davitts v Castlebar Mitchels

Sunday, September 11
Ballindine at 4pm
Referee: J Finn

BOTH of these teams got the first round results most outsiders had predicted, although their performances were below the levels they would have expected of themselves.
Mitchels edged home in front of Charlestown by a point after failing to hit too many notes, with Paddy Durcan limping off at half-time with an ankle injury to compound things.
Whether he’s fit to line out on Sunday is doubtful, but his twin brother, James, will definitely be missing due to his knee injury.
Castlebar only mustered up 0-11 last weekend — four of them from the impressive Paddy Heneghan — and they will need more scores from the likes of Neil Douglas, Paul Walsh and Ethan Gibbons if they are to go deep into this competition.
Davitts were strangely flat against Garrymore and conceding 1-4 without reply early on left them chasing the game. Losing Colm Boyle to an injury didn’t help their cause either.
They should have no problem getting up for the visit of the Mitchels, especially in Ballindine, but their forwardline will need to do better than the one point from play they managed in Garrymore.
Corner-forward Niall Treacy is one to watch and his duel with the in-form Seán Morahan could be a chance to see two top young players go toe-to-toe.
On all known form all the evidence points to a Castlebar win.

VERDICT: Castlebar Mitchels


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