MAKING THEIR MOVE Westport’s Oisin McLaughlin tries to shake off Ballina’s Evan Regan during the recent Mayo SFC Final. Pic: Conor McKeown
THE challenge now for Westport is to try and go where Claremorris, Garrymore, Charlestown, Ballina Stephenites, Knockmore, Crossmolina and Castlebar Mitchels have gone before.
To kick on after winning a Mayo senior title and add a provincial club championship to their burgeoning roll of honour.
But first there is the small matter of trying to get past Galway champions, Moycullen, next Sunday lunch-time at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.
Westport’s first ever foray into the Connacht senior club championship just happens to be against a team that have won two of the last three Galway titles; to put their challenge into context, the Mayo champions have been installed as the 2/1 outsiders to keep their run going.
But, of course, Martin Connolly’s team were also underdogs against Ballina Stephenites in the County Final and we all know how that finished up.
The fact remains that, even without injured defenders Joe Grady and Eoghan McLaughlin, ineligible attacker Colm Moran, and sidelined utility man, Conor McGraynor, Westport are unbeaten in their last six championship games.
They also only lost one of their six championship matches last season.
And they have only conceded one goal from open play (Padraig O’Hora’s close-range strike the last day) in around seven hours of championship football.
If winning is a habit, then Westport have got the hang of it big-style in recent months.
And what of Moycullen?
The Galway side are managed by former Roscommon footballer, Don Connellan, and can call on men with inter-county experience like corner-back David Wynne, midfielders Peter Cooke and Paul Kelly; and inside forwards Owen Gallagher and Dessie Conneely.
Throw in brilliant Galway captain, Seán Kelly, who lined out at centre-forward in the dramatic County Final win over Salthill-Knocknacarra, and you begin to realise why they are fancied to progress to a provincial semi-final.
But Westport’s ferocious work-rate, military-style defensive organisation, and an abundance of pace around the field are all formidable weapons in their own right.
Not to mention the individual quality of the likes of Rory Brickenden, Niall McManamon, Brian McDermott and Paul Lambert in the backline; Lee Keegan, Oisin McLaughlin and Fionn McDonagh around the middle, and the likes of Mark Moran, Conal Dawson, Killian Kilkelly and Kevin Keane up top.
While Paddy O’Malley, Luke Tunney, Liam Shevlin, Brian O’Malley, Pat Lambert, Alan Kennedy and semi-final hero, Shane Scott, won’t be found wanting either when push comes to shove.
Martin Connolly and Shane Conway will relish the outsider’s tag too, and that will help to build a siege mentality in the coming days.
Joint captain, Oisin McLaughlin, gave some insight into the Westport mindset in the wake of their County Final win.
“Work-rate is our baseline, our launch pad all season. The fact that Shane and Martin came into us this season, they allowed us to express ourselves and enjoy the game.
“That’s when we get the best out of ourselves, just playing football, not letting the occasion set to us, just playing the game and going out and enjoying it like when we were youngsters.”
He also referred to the Connacht series as ‘bonus territory’ for the first-time Mayo champs.
That’s what makes them such dangerous opponents for hot favourites like Moycullen.
“At least we can let the shackles off now, and as we saw in 2017 [when Westport won the All-Ireland Intermediate club title], you never know what can happen,” smiled McLaughlin.
All will be revealed on Sunday.
Connacht Club SFC Quarter-Final
Westport v Moycullen
Sunday, November 13
Castlebar at 1.30pm