IT’S very difficult to pick a Mayo Super League ‘Team of the Season’ this year.
Normally the champions would dominate, but Ballyheane are no ordinary champions.
Not only have the retained their title, but they have done so without a number of the players from last year’s squad. And Ballyheane are a ‘team’ as opposed to a group of individuals who play together.
Ashley Stevenson and his coaches have done an excellent job this year, retaining the title without some of the key players from the season before.
The surprise package of the season, without doubt, is Kiltimagh/Knock United. They were promoted last year, and it can be difficult to predict how promoted teams will fare at the higher level. But KKU have excellent players and a management/coaching team, and have acquitted themselves very well in the Super League with the quality of their football.
The three regulars — Ballina Town, Castlebar Celtic and Westport United — had mixed fortunes. Ballina had a slow start, but came good as the season went on. They have some really top players. Westport are in transition and it showed in their mixed results this season. Celtic hit patches where they were unstoppable, and other patches of indifference.
It took Stevie Gavin a while to mould the team into the style and shape he wanted.
Claremorris imploded this season. They lost some players from last year and were very brittle at the back, despite having some good players. Relegation is a big blow for them.
Straide and Foxford United looked dead and buried as the season wore on. They were unable to field against Ballina Town due to a Covid outbreak in the camp, but the turning point of the season for them was the home win over Ballyhaunis Town. It was the turning point for Ballyhaunis too, who were unable to hold on to their Super League status.
Glenhest Rovers were comfortable in the end. They are a tough team to beat and their draw at Ballina Town was a great example of this. The last twenty minutes seemed to be played entirely in their six-yard box, but they held on that day and held on again this season.
Manulla will have to sort themselves out for next season. I doubt if they put the same side out, twice this season, but if they did they certainly didn’t play in the same positions.
They have a great club and great facilities, but on the pitch, they were very inconsistent.
EMMET Peyton of Ballina Town was in last year’s team. He is a solid keeper and sets up attacks very well. Westport United’s Gary Cunningham had some fantastic displays this season; so much so, that he was called up to the Irish Junior squad. Castlebar Celtic’s Stefan Hester is an excellent young ‘keeper, who had a great season.
Gary gets the nod this year.
JACK TUFFY, Darragh Ludden and Cillian Redmond were outstanding for Ballyheane this year. In Tuffy and Ludden’s case it’s no surprise. The pair are quality players and would fit comfortably into any junior team of any era.
Redmond has been the find of the season for Ballyheane. He was in and out of the team last year, and has consolidated his place this year and improves every time he togs.
Aiden McTigue and Michael Waldron gave it their all for Ballyhaunis Town and were considered. Chris Moore would give his life in the line of duty at the back for Ballina Town. He has had a few different partners at centre-back this season, and takes it all in his stride. James O’Donnell is a warrior for Westport United, who has been deployed in a number of different roles. He too is a warrior. Brendan Walsh has been inspirational at the heart of Kiltimagh/Knock United’s impressive season.
Eoin Reaney worked tirelessly in defence for Straide & Foxford United this season and is a contender, as is Andrew Shally of Manulla, who gives one hundred percent every time he pulls on the shirt. After much deliberation the four selected are: Brendan Walsh, Jack Tuffy, Chris Moore and Darragh Ludden.
SELECTING a midfield for team of the season, is a nightmare.
Seán Kilcoyne spent the season at the heart of everything Ballyheane did. He battles and battles and is a real leader. Dylan McKee of Ballina Town has an unbelievable first touch and excellent distribution. Danny Gorman has had an excellent season, sitting in front of Ballina’s back four. Ronan Mallee has done as similar job with Kiltimagh/Knock United and beside him, James McGrath is an excellent player.
Seán Heaney of Westport United has been excellent since his return from Sligo Rovers.
Chris Rowland is extremely consistent for Glenhest Rovers and Tony McDermott is a great midfield battler for S&F. Joe Slevin covered every blade of grass on every pitch he played on for Claremorris, in a vain effort to keep them up. Johnny Cocozza has had a stunning end to the season since his switch to Castlebar Celtic.
He was excellent too, for S&F in the earlier part of the season.
So who to pick? In the end, Seán Kilcoyne and Johnny Cocozza get the nod with Jamie Cawley of Ballina out wide. Cawley has it all. Skill, strength, pace, vision and discipline.
THERE is an abundance of quality strikers in the Mayo League.
Benny Lavelle of Ballina Town puts the fear of God and humiliation into defenders. Jordan Loftus and Jason Hunt of Castlebar Celtic are excellent front-men. Loftus on his day is unstoppable. Hunt has a lethal left foot.
Kienan Smyth of S&F is an excellent young striker, and Andy Cunnane of Ballyhaunis Town would slot into most sides. KK’s Jack O’Connor is a complete striker. His eye for goal is second to none. With Ben Edeh and Nathan Reilly-Doyle, Ballyheane will always score goals. Westport United’s Darren Browne is a constant threat.
His positional sense and aerial ability are excellent.
The Manulla duo of David McCracken and Aiden Dunleavy, alongside Glenhest’s Levi Barrett and Michael Guilfoyle of S&F are top class also. When it came to decision time, the places go to Jack O’Connor, Nathan Reilly-Doyle and Benny Lavelle.
We named Seán Kilcoyne (captain) and, after steering Ballyheane to a second Super League title, the manager of the season goes to Ashley Stevenson of Ballyheane.
Player of the year
THE Mayo News ‘Footballer of the Year’ Award is a difficult decision to make.
Jack Tuffy and Darragh Ludden of Ballyheane were strong contenders, but Jack O’Connor of KKU is the choice.
Finally, a comment on the overall selection. The players chosen are brilliant players, but if we were to take the team onto the pitch, it is a bit unbalanced.
But then sports writers are in the lucky position of not having to take the team onto the pitch.
Our Super League Goal of the Season
THERE are three contenders in the running.
Aaron Cannon’s memorable goal for Westport United in their home win over Glenhest Rovers on Sunday last. The young defender dribbled through the middle, laid it off for a quick one-two, and drove the return pass to the Glenhest net.
It was a goal in the Westport tradition and one destined to be seen worldwide, thanks to Kenny Gannon’s livestream and memorable commentary.
Then there’s Jack O’Connor’s third for Kiltimagh/Knock United against Ballyheane at Pat Quigley Park. The ball fell to O’Connor inside the centre-circle. Any other player would have headed for the corner flag to run-down the clock with his side in front.
O’Connor glanced-up, saw Tommy Scahill, the Ballyheane ‘keeper, at the edge of his penalty area, and shot. This wasn’t a speculative blast. It was a precise strike, judging the wind, the height of the ‘keeper and the location of the goal.
It made the scoreline 3-1 and put the game beyond Ballyheane.
Whilst these two were excellent goals, Aiden Dunleavy’s outstanding goal for Manulla at home to Westport United is The Mayo News Goal of the Season.
Manulla were one down when the youngster got the ball, took on and beat three Westport players, and drove the ball from twenty-five metres into the roof of the Westport net.
It earned Manulla a point that day and proved, (if proof was necessary) the exceptional talent of the youngster.
Match of the Season
Ballyhaunis Town 4
Kiltimagh/Knock Utd 6
THIS match on Sunday, August 7 had it all.
Ten goals. One red card, eight yellows. A penalty saved.
And one of the best comebacks of all time.
Ballyhaunis went three up with two goals from Andy Cunnane and one from Gary Higgins, all in a twenty-minute, first half spell.
KKU defender, Brendan Walsh, was then shown a straight red card for a foul. Ten-man KKU then scored five goals to make it 5-3. Ballyhaunis got another to make it 5-4 before KKU got their sixth. After the game, KKU manager, James Costello said that, from the sideline, it was the most stressful game of the season. Perhaps it was, if you were a manager, but for this neutral it was our choice for ‘Match of the Season’.