It was back to the harsh reality for Mayo players last weekend as they played in the final group games of the championship for their clubs. It is not the easiest thing to motivate yourself for — a club game after what they have been through, as most if not all of them will take a long time to get over the heartbreak of the All-Ireland final. It is a weird scenario. People from opposing clubs who were screaming from the rafters for you two weeks previous now see you as the panto villain, while club players playing against you would like nothing more than to have a cut at you, to take you down a peg or two, knowing you will be in a relatively fragile state of mind. For some the club is a great distraction especially if their club has a chance of winning silverware or making it through to the next round. For others it is a burden having to play when you know your team is going nowhere.
A feast of football last weekend
The most stand out result of the entire weekend was the defeat of county champions Castlebar Mitchels by sleeping giants Ballina in their game, leaving the Mitchels runners up in group two and a nightmare fixture for any group winner in the quarter final. Knockmore, the unfortunate group winners to draw the short straw. Next Sunday's quarter final pairing is a repeat of last year's final that the Mitchels won comfortably on a scoreline of 3-18 to 0-10. Knockmore will certainly put it up to the champions but you would be foolish to write Castlebar off as they have been the standard bearers and are going for three Moclair cups in a row. Ballina have impressively topped their group and will fancy having a right cut at winning back the county title for the first time since 2007.
There was a feast of football on Saturday evening at the Connacht GAA centre of excellence. Breaffy had a comprehensive win over 2012 champions Ballaghadeereen, winning by 6-14 to 1-09. Ballagh really faced an uphill battle from the get go, having to line out without 2017 player of the year in waiting Andy Moran, but credit to Breaffy who were very impressive. I do not think the great Moran would even account for the 20 point deficit. Conor O'Shea and Tommy Reilly were virtually unmarkable in the first half scoring some sublime scores. Aidan O'Shea also played his part, he is very difficult to stop when in full throttle running at goal. Hollymount-Carramore claimed the runners up spot in group two after a four point victory over neighbours Davitts. Ballintubber's win over Claremorris in a top of the table clash in group three gives them a more favourable draw against Hollymount Carramore while Claremorris have to contend with Breaffy.
My own club Charlestown Sarsfields will be kicking themselves after losing to Garrymore in what was a winner takes all game. Garrymore racing into an early seven point lead in the first half while Charlestown never got out of the blocks. There were some outstanding points scored by both teams. It was a nail biting finish as the final piece of action saw county star Tom Parsons fielding brilliantly inside the Garrymore 21 before turning and firing at goal, but to the relief of Garrymore and the anguish of Charlestown his shot went narrowly wide. Having accumulated three points from their first two games, Charlestown will be bitterly disappointed not to qualify, but credit to Garrymore who leave everything on the field, and taking into account they have lost a lot of players over the years it was a brilliant win for them.
Andy Moran fires the first shot
Andy Moran has issued the first rallying call for 2018 with his commitment for at least another year. He really knows nothing else but dedication to the Mayo jersey. I have no doubt Moran's declaration came at a time when others were/are considering their futures and he has set the ball in motion for the rest of the squad and management to stay together to have another crack at winning Sam Maguire. I am sure his motives are to get others to follow suit. Lee Keegan's withdrawal because of injury from the International rules squad is a blessing in disguise for him and Mayo for 2018. With his exploits for Westport this year where he won an All-Ireland intermediate club medal and all the games he has had for Mayo in the 2017 championship he is well overdue a break from football, and a gruelling trip Down Under is the last thing he needs however appealing it may sound.