Final four spots up for grabs in senior championship

GAA: Mayo Senior Football Championship

Knockmore's Kevin McLoughlin and Paddy Durcan will be battling it out this weekend at the quarter final stages of the Mayo Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

Knockmore's Kevin McLoughlin and Paddy Durcan will be battling it out this weekend at the quarter final stages of the Mayo Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

The battle for the Moclair Cup has reached the quarter-final stage and this weekend the last eight sides left standing will do battle for a place in the final four of the competition.

The action will get under way tomorrow evening at 5pm in James Stephens Park in Ballina when defending champions, Ballintubber, take on last year's intermediate winners, Belmullet.

Both sides went down to defeats in the final round of group games, but both went into that round safe in the knowledge they had already booked their place in the last eight of the competition.

Kevin Johnson's Ballintubber are still the team to beat and he will be hoping that they have timed their run to top form as well as they did last year, they come into the game stacked with big game winning experience and they have the know-how like no other club in this grade to grind out results when they need to. Johnson will be looking to experienced heads like Cillian O'Connor, Alan Dillon, Jason Gibbons, Diarmuid O'Connor and Michael Plunkett to lead the line when they make the trip to north Mayo.

They won't be thinking of it as being bonus territory and will be putting it all into winning on Saturday evening, but having just escaped the intermediate grade last term, getting to the last eight of the senior championship at the first time of asking, represents a massive year for Belmullet. Damien Mulligan's men have shown plenty of potential this year and could have possibly beaten Ballaghaderreen in the last round of the group stages if they had a bit more experience. With Chris Barrett and Eoin O'Donoghue at the back and the dangerous twin attacking threat of Gary Boylan and Ryan O'Donoghue, Ballintubber can't afford to take them lightly and if they are off key - Belmullet will give them a serious rattle.

An hour later in Castlebar the first of three quarter-finals taking place in MacHale Park will get underway when Ballaghaderreen take on this year's championship surprise outfit, Davitts. The south Mayo men confidently dispatched Kiltane in their final group game in the same venue a fortnight ago to book their place in the last eight - Colm Boyle will not be found wanting and the likes of Ronan McNamara has plenty of experience to draw on while Cathal Hennelly will provide a real attacking threat for Padraic Costello's side. Ballagh' topped their group with three wins from three and Paul McHugh's side will be backing themselves to book a place in the semi-finals. Andy Moran as always will be the focal point in attack, but there are plenty of other serious potential leaders in the side, with Seamus Cunniffe, Cian Hanley, Shairoze Akram and Kuba Callaghan adding a serious youthful boost of quality, while David Drake brings all his inter-county experience to the defence.

Next up is probably the most anticipated game of the weekend when Breaffy and Ballina Stephenites clash at 7.30pm in the county grounds. Breaffy have been cruising in the championship, winning three from three, but their league form has been patchy - but it is all about the championship for them. Beaten in last year's final, they have come back again this year looking to finally get over the line. Their obvious strength around the middle of the field with the O'Shea brothers and Matthew Ruane will be key for them but they also have Liam Irwin back in situ this year and his free-taking could be key. Ballina Stephenites have been quietly building and were well-deserving in getting out of the group stages and did so without losing a game. David Clarke will be steady as a rock between the sticks, while up front with the likes of Ciaran Tracey, Evan Regan and Sean Reagn - who was excellent against Westport in their last group game and yongster Conor McStay - will provide a serious test for Breaffy's defence. Mikey Murray will be a key man around the middle third along with Jack Irwin and Ciaran Sweeney. This one could go right down to the wire.

On Sunday, Castlebar Mitchels and Knockmore will meet in a repeat of 2016 - and while they will be the underdogs, Knockmore will be well keyed up for this one. They have been flying in the league and a loss away to Ballintubber in round two is the only minor blot in their copy book in this year's senior championship. Kevin McLoughlin will be the key man for Ray Dempsey's team but with the likes of Darren McHale, Thomas Clarke and Aidan Orme in the side, they are far from a one man band. Mitchels were beaten last year at the semi-final stage after a replay by Ballintubber and everyone is aware on their day they can beat anyone in style. Neil Douglas remains the most potent forward at club level in the county, Paddy Durcan looks to be on his way to an All Star for his performances for Mayo this Summer, Donal Vaughan has a wealth of experience to call on and having won four Mayo titles and a few Connacht ones since 2013 - as a team they have just become so used to winning when it counts. They haven't been as good as they can be yet this year and they will be keen to get moving back towards their top levels, starting on Sunday at 3pm.

At the foot of the championship it is all about ensuring survival for the four sides in the relegation play-off semi-finals. Both games throw in at 1pm on Sunday, with Hollymount-Carramore taking on Claremorris in a tough south Mayo derby in Ballindine. Hollymount-Carramore put it up to Knockmore for a long time in the last round of group games and will feel they could have got something from that one, Claremorris will be very disappointed with how their championship season has gone, losing three from three and ending up in this situation; they could have have to go one more round before ensuring their status for next year. The other relegation play-off sees two sides who are really out of form of late, both Westport and Moy Davitts will have to put that behind them when it comes to their meeting in Ballyheane on Sunday. The greater overall quality in the Westport side should favour them when it comes to the crunch.

Mayo SFC Quarter Finals

Ballintubber v Belmullet, Saturday, September 21 at 5pm in Ballina.

Ballaghaderreen v Davitts, Saturday, September 21 at 6pm in MacHale Park.

Breaffy v Ballina Stephenites, Saturday, September 21 at 7.30pm in MacHale Park

Castlebar Mitchels v Knockmore, Sunday, September 22 at 3pm in MacHale Park.

Mayo SFC Relegation Play-Offs

Hollymount-Carramore v Claremorris, Sunday, September 22 at 1pm in Ballindine.

Bohola Moy Davitts v Westport, Sunday, September 22 at 1pm in Ballyheane.

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