The county senior football semi-finals are down for decision this Sunday at Tuam Stadium in what promises to be an exciting double-header.
First up are Salthill/Knocknacarra and Cortoon Shamrocks at 2.30pm, and that game is followed at 4.15pm by reigning county champions Corofin and the team they beat in last years’ county final, Mounbellew-Moylough, in what promises to be a cracking game.
Cortoon-Shamrocks are enjoying a good season under Paul Bradley, and they will fancy their chances of beating Val Daly’s Salthill who came with a late rally to defeat Caherlistrane in their recent quarter-final.
The seasiders won that tie by 2-7 to 1-5, but it took a late flurry of scores from Sean Armstrong, midfielder Robert Butler, Shane Kelly, and a superbly taken goal by Marcus MacDonnacha, to ease them clear.
The spark and subsequent fire for that late scoring burst came from team captain Conor Halloran at wing-back who tore up the field a few times to inspire his teammates in the last quarter.
Others who caught the eye for Salthill were goalkeeper Evan Duffy, Gavin Duffy and William Finnerty in the full-back line, and Conor Healy and county minor John Maher around the middle.
Cortoon will be looking for big displays from the Varley twins, Adrian and Paul, Joseph Donnellan, Cathal Mulryan, Donal O’Neill, Alan Boyle, goalkeeper Daragh Glynn, and veteran Derek Savage to get back to a senior county final.
They were impressive in their 2-11 to 1-5 defeat of Mícheal Breathnachs in the quarter-final with goals from Donal O’Neill and Joe Donnellan. However Na Breathnaigh were down a lot of players through injury, so that needs to be taken into account when analysing the margin of their victory.
Calling a winner in this tie is not easy. Cortoon have not been in championship action for a good few weeks and Salthill/Knocknacarra lacked intensity for long periods in their quarter-final and did not really impress until the last six or seven minutes when they hit 1-4 without reply.
The fact that Salthill played only two weeks ago in the championship gives them a small advantage, but they cannot expect Cortoon to be as lightweight and lacking in scoring power as Caherlistane.
Salthill won the county senior championship in 2012 – to add to their other two titles from 1990 and 2005; Cortoon have never won a senior title. They did reach the county final in 2008 with a good few of their current squad involved before going down to an experienced and strong Corofin outfit.
If Cortoon can reproduce the form they showed in their nine-point triumph over Na Breathnaigh, they should just about be good enough to jump the Salthill challenge and get back to their first county senior final in eight years.
In the second semi-final Corofin, who are seeking four-in-a-row county titles, are expected to have too much for a team they beat in last year’s final by 10 points, Mountbellew-Moylough. The 2015 final ended on a scoreline of 3-13 to 0-12, with Ronan Steede, Michael Farragher and Ian Burke scoring the three goals for a team of which current Mayo manager Stephen Rochford was in charge. One of Rochford’s selectors was Kevin O’Brien and he has donned the bainisteoir bib for 2016.
O’Brien will know it is never easy to beat the same team two years in a row in the latter stages of championship football and he will have his panel on red alert for the challenge that Martin Boyle and James Foran’s team will present.
Mountbellew have some very exciting young forwards, such as Michael Daly and Eoin Finnerty, and the Corofin defence will be expecting a busy day.
The black and amber team also have some very good players in David Hogan, Cathal Kenny, Matthew Barrett, Stephen Boyle, Barry McHugh, and team captain and wing-back Paul Donnellan.
This game should have plenty of intensity and vigour as Mountbellew seek to avenge last year’s county final defeat and an opportunity to challenge for a first county final success since 1986.
It will be interesting to see if all the Corofin players have the enthusiasm and hunger for another county title.
If they do, then the class and experience of Gary Sice, Kieran Fitzgerald, Ronan Steede, Bernard Power, the Burkes (Daithí, Ian and Alan ), the Silkes (Liam and Cathal ) and the Farraghers (Martin and Michael ), allied to the youthful exuberance of Kieran Molloy and Dylan Wall, and a returned Michael Lundy, should see them through - however, only after a right tussle with what many believe to be the second best side in the county.