Mayo will meet Sligo on Sunday week in Castlebar after the Yeats men survived their trip to the Big Apple defeating the home side by 1-21 to 1-13. For the life of me I could not get my head around all the talk that New York were going to beat Sligo and that this was their strongest ever team in the championship and an upset was on the cards. This theory was mainly based on the fact that they recruited a few big name players and also ran Roscommon to a single point last year and that Roscommon are perceived as a better team than Sligo.
There was a lot of money lost as New York were backed from 11/1 into 5/2 before throw in. Word of New York running Donegal close twice in two challenge games obviously influenced punters, but the reality is challenge games are challenge games and nothing beats competitive action, of which New York did not have any such game since last year's defeat to Roscommon. The Emigrants did go ahead for the first time in the second half but the obvious superior preparation and fitness of Sligo was always going to tell in the end as they were comfortable winners. Sligo’s older brigade of Adrian Marren and Mark Brehany used all their experience to great effect for Niall Carew's team. From what I gather this was Brehany's fourth trip to New York for the championship which is an amazing personal feat and testament to his dedication.
All action on the home front
The Mayo football championship got into full swing with some impressive personal performances and some outlandish results that nobody saw coming. I am informed all the Mayo players came through unscathed which will be huge relief to supporters, and of course Stephen Rochford. One notable absentee for his club was All-Star corner back Brendan Harrison who pulled his hamstring in a challenge game against Meath and looks likely to miss at least the Sligo game. Conor O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor both scored heavily for Breaffy and Ballintubber as they defeated Davitts and Kiltane respectively. O'Shea hit 1-8 while his county team mate O'Connor notched an impressive 1-9. You would have imagined Breaffy's huge haul of 4-18 would be the talk of the first round of the championship, but the other result in group two is the one you need to look at twice to see your eyes are not deceiving you. Hollymount-Carramore scored a whopping 4-15 away to Ballaghadeereen who only managed 1-6 for the hour, an 18 point win in lay man's terms, and Ballagh were favourites to win the game. County champions Castlebar were also comfortable winners in their game against Crossmolina winning by 2-15 to 1-06.
Things are as they were in group one as Garrymore and Westport and Charlestown and Knockmore played out draws. The Charlestown and Knockmore game played in glorious conditions (as I am sure all the games were ) in O'Hara Park, Charlestown, was eventful to say the least with the home side 10 points to the good at one stage of the first half only to be hanging on for dear life at the end as Knockmore squandered some great chances to take the points. Tom Parsons was very influential for the Sarsfields in the opening half while Kevin McLoughlin ran the show in the second half scoring a splendid goal for Knockmore.
Championship is coming
I was up in Donnybrook last Sunday for RTE's launching of the Hurling and Football championship 2017 mingling with the who's who of RTE punditry for what was a very enjoyable afternoon. The “can Mayo win Sam” was a resounding question from hosts Darren Frehill and Jacqui Hurley to the entire panel, and the answer from them all was a simple no, we have missed the boat and have not unearthed any new scoring talent. Despite Pat Spillane thinking we will not win Sam in 2017 he hopes we do as long as it is not at Kerry's expense. Tomas O Se drew great laughter from the audience when he declared, “we love playing Mayo in Kerry”. I simply played it cool by declaring that it will be a tough year for us because if all goes the way it is supposed to,we would meet Kerry in a semifinal and Dublin in a final which could prove difficult. I did emphasise that Mayo's first priority is to wrestle the Nestor Cup back from Galway.
Jerome gets the nod
Congratulations and best of luck to Castlebar Mitchels referee Jerome Henry who has been included on the panel of championship referees for 2017 for the first time. It is a huge honour for him and I hope he gets plenty of games throughout the summer. Our old friend Cormac Reilly has also been reinstated after dropping out in 2016. They would surely never consider him were we to meet Kerry in the semifinal, would they?