The new Mayo League Super League season will get under way on Sunday and the other nine sides in the top flight are all looking to follow in the footsteps of last year's champions, Ballina Town.
Earlier this week we caught up with some of the managers and players who will be in action across the pitches in Mayo for the next few months in the top division of Mayo soccer - such as Ballina Town manager Mick Duffy, Westport United captain Gary Cunningham, Ballyglass manager Tom Connolly and Tommy Page the manager of Super League newboys Ballyhaunis Town.
Champions Ballina Town will open up their defence with a tricky away tie against Ballyglass on Sunday at 2.30pm - the central Mayo outfit are boosted by the return home of Ryan Connolly to his home town club. For Ballina Town manager Mick Duffy, it's all about keeping up the consistency they showed last season. He told the Mayo Advertiser: "It is about focusing for us on ourselves and not be worrying about what others are doing. Everyone is coming up with their own goals for their own teams and have their ambitions and targets for the season, it is the same for us, we are not too bothered about anybody else and it is just about performing to our own standards every game during the season."
Keeping up the standards they set last year will not be easy, Duffy said: "Maintaining it will be hard enough, but we have a great squad of players there - we have lost a few coming in the season like Dave O'Mahony, Ollie Feeney and Ciaran Gaughan, who is playing with the college team in Galway and Mark Birrane signed for Wexford Youths, but who is looking to come back to us, but has a injury at the minute."
But there will be some freshness injected into the side according to Duffy: "We also have a B team who had a great season last year and you would hope that we will see one or two lads break through from there over time. We have brought in young Danny Loftus, who is about 17, he is young and getting him game time and used to it will take time; we also have Johnny Cocozza with us and he has a bit about him - again time to get used to the way we play will be important."
This weekend's game against Ballyglass will be a tricky encounter for the champions but so too will every game be, as the Ballina Town manager knows: "We have a tough game away from home to Ballyglass and Tom Connolly will have his side ready and every game will bring its own challenge. We had a little break before Christmas and the Connacht Cup has helped us get ready along with a few pre-season friendlies and it will be just making sure we are ready to go. Fitness won't be there yet, but you have to build it."
The man who will be in the opposite dugout on Sunday is the experienced Tom Connolly, who has his own aims and ambitions for the season ahead, telling the Advertiser: "Realistically we would be looking to be there or thereabouts in the top three and win a cup - that has to be our goal for the year. We are starting off against the champions, Ballina Town, this weekend and we hope to go from there. We probably got off to a bad start last year and we played Westport in the first game last year and lost to a late goal and we kind of didn't recover from that for a few rounds, we won only one in the first five or six and were playing catch up for the rest of the season. We were finding ourselves in mid-season kind of getting sucked into a relegation battle and thankfully we came good from midway on and finished in sixth place."
Connolly is confident that if he is able to keep his squad fit and healthy they can have a big say on the outcome of the division, saying: "The squad we had last year and the year before - if we could have that squad every week we should be challenging, but every game last year we were missing a minimum of three players and you can't challenge if you end up like that, we haven't got a huge squad of players, we have 16-17 lads who are well fit for the Super League, but we can't afford to lose any of them and that is the problem."
For Westport United challenging for the title is where they always aim to be and this year is no different, according to their captain Gary Cunningham, even if the season never seems to end. He said: "It's been 14 months really going - so we've not had too bad of a pre-season you could say. We took last week off after the Annacotty game and then enjoyed this weekend just gone, because looking at the fixtures we were not going to have a free weekend until August, all going well. We'll be back at it this week and be ready to go on Sunday.
"You always go out to win every game, our ambition is to win the Super League back again - Ballina won it and fair play to them they deserved it last year, but we'll be back looking to win it this year."
The lads few seasons has seen Westport blood a lot of new players who have now developed into a strong squad that will be needed over the course of a long season, if they are going to keep up a title challenge, according to Cunningham who said: "Yah, we still have the likes of Joe (Lawless ) and the two Daves (Cameron and Hoban ), but the core of the group is now 24 to 25 year olds, they will have learned a lot over the last few months.
"Even getting knocked out of the FAI Junior Cup will stand to them as the year goes on, we have 24 to 25 there in the squad but we'll need that. Now that we have been going so long, lads are going to need breaks and will pick up knocks that will need a week or two off, but everyone is confident that those who come in are well able to step up to the plate for us."
Ballyhaunis Town will be making the step up to the Super League this season and their manager Tommy Page is under no illusion that is going to be a big step up for his side, but he is relishing the challenge, saying: "Everyone aspires to be in the Super League and we're here now and we'll do our best to be competitive and compete in every game."
As for what would would be a successful season for the Super League new boys, Page said: "Stay in the division firstly and be competitive in every game, like every other team you want to try and get points on the board early on and not be looking over your shoulder all the time.
"It's very tough, probably the hardest division in the whole of Connacht - it is unforgiving, you can be in games right up to the 80th minute or later and one slip and you'll get done.
"The league won't be decided in the first few weeks it is a long drawn on season, you have to pace your self but keep getting as many points on the board as you can to make sure that you are being as competitive as you can."
Super League Round One Fixtures
Sunday, March 24
Ballyheane v Ballyhaunis Town at 2.30pm
Straide and Foxford United v Manulla at 11.30am
Westport United v Snugboro United at 11.30am
Ballyglass v Ballina Town at 2.30pm
Claremorris v Castlebar Celtic at 11.30am