Final four to battle it out for final spots

GAA: Mayo Senior Football Championship

Managing expectations: Ballina Stephenites manager Enda Gilvarry will be looking to topple defending champions Ballintubber tomorrow evening. Photo: Sportsfile

Managing expectations: Ballina Stephenites manager Enda Gilvarry will be looking to topple defending champions Ballintubber tomorrow evening. Photo: Sportsfile

The last four sides left standing in the Mayo Senior Football championship will go toe-to-toe over the weekend in what promises to be a thrilling couple of days of football in the county grounds.

First up will be the meeting of defending champions Ballintubber and the most successful side in the history of the championship in Mayo Ballina Stephenites. The north Mayo men have won the Moclair Cup on 36 occasions in the past, the last of those coming in 2007 - since then though their opponents Ballintubber and their neighbours Castlebar Mitchels have dominated the championship - with both teams winning four titles each in the past nine years.

The Stephenites caused the surprise of the quarter-finals by dispatching Breaffy after extra time and they will be relishing the chance to take down another West Mayo side tomorrow evening. Enda Gilvarry's side had served warning early in the championship, they had a real intent on making a serious dent in bringing the Stephenties back to the top table of the club game in the county and they backed that up a fortnight ago.

They do have plenty of inter-county experience to draw on with All Star winners David Clarke and Ger Cafferkey marshalling the defence along with Evan Regan, Mikey Murray and Ciaran Tracey (who put in a stellar performance in the quarter-final ) all part of James Horan's Mayo set-up this year. Others who stood up big time in their quarter-final win and have the potential to have a big say on Saturday evening are Sean Regan and Padraig O'Hora.

Ballintubber have been here before plenty of times over the past decade and Kevin Johnson's side have been adept at doing what they need to do to get over the line in big games. The West Mayo men's efficiency and control when it comes to 'clutch moments' in tight encounters has seen them edge tight games down the years.

In Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor they have two players who, when they need to dig out big game winning moments, they can rely on, while Michael Plunkett, Jason Gibbons and Alan Dillon are far from just supporting cast players and can have a massive influence on the outcome of this game. This has the potential to be a real slow burner of a contest with whatever side holding their nerve down the closing stretch set to decide who makes the final.

On Sunday afternoon it's east meets west when Castlebar Mitchels - who won three titles on the bounce from 2015 to 2018 - take on the only club to break their and Ballintubber's dominance of the past decade - when they play Ballaghaderren at 3pm. Mitchels will go into the clash as favourites, but that is based as much on their past works as this year's performance so far. Castlebar haven't been hitting the same high notes they reached in previous years, but they know how to win big games and that will be an advantage heading into this one.

They drew with Ballina in round one before going on to see off Westport and Aghamore to book their spot in the quarter-finals, where they were pushed right to the pin of their collar by Knockmore, but when the decisive moment arrived and a goal chance appeared, they took it to break the back of a more than spirited challenge by Ray Dempsey's men.

At the back, the likes of Donie Newcombe, Ger McDonagh and Sean Conlon will keep things tight, while Paddy Durcan will not only be able to keep things locked down - he'll pose a serious threat going forward. Donal Vaughan and Danny Kirby are more than a handful for any midfield to worry about in the middle of the park, while James Durcan and Neil Douglas will be players the Ballagh' defence can't take their eyes off.

But Ballaghaderreen aren't here to just make up the numbers and this is the second year in a row they have made it to the last four of the championship. In the quater-finals they took apart Davitts with ease - with Andy Moran putting in a scene-stealing display up front; they also did it without full back and captain Seamus Cunniffe. While Moran might be the star attraction they are far from a one-man team, David Drake will put in a big shift at the back, while Shaoize Akram will be looked to, to punch holes in the Mitchels rear guard and Cian Hanley will be a handful on the 45, while Kuba Callaghan - a player with lots of potential - could have a big showing if things go his way. Mitchels are the favourites, but Ballagh won't make it easy for them.

The other senior championship game this weekend is the clash that nobody wanted to be in - there is no room for error for either Hollymount-Carramore or Bohola Moy Davitts when they meet in the relegation final. The south Mayo men won the intermediate title in 2015, while the east Mayo men won it in 2017.

Hollymount-Carramore went into the last round of group games still with a chance of making the last eight, but now they find themselves clawing for survival. Moy Davitts were beaten in all three group games and were already heading into the relegation play-offs before the final group game. In the relegation semi-finals Westport saw off Moy Davitts, while Claremorris dispatched Hollymount-Carramore with ease - but the south Mayo men will head into this one as favourites to hold on to their senior status - however these games haven't always gone according to expected form lines in the past and this could be no different.

Mayo Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals

Ballintubber v Ballina Stephenites

Saturday, October 5 at 7.30pm in MacHale Park

Ballaghaderreen v Castlebar Mitchels

Sunday, October 6 at 3pm

Mayo Senior Football Championship Relegation Play-Off

Hollymount-Carramore v Moy Davitts

Sunday, October 6 at 12pm in Claremorris


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