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Stephenites can shade a close final

Sport

FORWARD THINKING Westport’s Mark Moran could have a big say in the outcome of Sunday’s Mayo SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile


Expert View

Stephen Drake

THERE’S very little between these teams on paper and that’s how it’s likely to play out on Sunday too. I expect this County Final to be won by a narrow margin.
Ballina’s history means that days like Sunday are nothing new to the club, even allowing for the 15-year gap since their last Senior Final appearance, so the weight of expectation is on Westport as they chase a first title at this grade.
There’s a lot of quality on both sides and, in terms of personnel, they’re very well-matched.
A lot of lads have been on Mayo panels so they’ve had exposure to those sort of set-ups and there’s a lot of quality on both benches too.
I’d probably argue that Westport might have a slightly stronger panel.
But I think Ballina will win the game for a few reasons.
Firstly, I think they’re in better form and moving that bit better than Westport at the moment. They’ve looked more impressive throughout the championship and they’re the team going into Sunday with a bit more confidence.
Having said that, the way that Westport won the semi-final will be very beneficial in terms of their mentality.
The Stephenites’ ability to score goals is also a factor in my thinking. It’s a huge advantage going into any County Final because if you can bury a few goals then it heaps pressure on the opposition to make up that deficit in points. And Westport haven’t been scoring goals recently, with the notable exception of Shane Scott’s winner the last day.
Westport’s defence has been pretty good at keeping goals out alright, but they haven’t met a team with Ballina’s attacking variety so far in this championship.
A third factor for me is that the Stephenites are playing at a higher tempo than Westport this season, and they’re taking more risks as a team. Typically, a team that’s willing to attack a one-off game like a County Final is the team that’s going to go out and force the issue and try and win it.
Ballina are pressing hard, they’re looking for goals, looking to kill teams off.
Westport have been a lot more pragmatic and stoic, they’re looking to contain, and they’ve looked a lot like a team trying not to lose matches as opposed to trying to win them.
That approach will work to a certain extent, and it’s obviously worked so far, although it was on the verge of blowing up on them against Castlebar Mitchels in the semi-final.
But unless they come out of their shell a bit more, unless some of their bigger players look to go out and take the game by the scruff of the neck and drive it on, then I think Westport will struggle to get on top of the Ballina.
Lads like Rory Brickenden, Fionn McDonagh, Mark Moran and Oisin McLaughlin have so much ability but they have to seize the moment now.
Lee Keegan and Kevin Keane were outstanding the last day, but the other lads with county experience need to deliver big performances.
Niall Heffernan has set Ballina up this season to take risks, play on the front foot, go for the jugular and win games on their terms. That’s an approach that should see the Moclair Cup going back to James Stephens Park on Sunday evening, although Westport have the ability to win this game if they can deliver the sort of performance we haven’t seen all season.

Stephen Drake won Mayo SFC medals with Ballaghaderreen in 2008 and 2012, when he was also the team captain.

 

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