Derby delight in the final four

GAA: Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals

Darren drives it home: Darren McHale bags the first of his two goals for Knockmore last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Darren drives it home: Darren McHale bags the first of his two goals for Knockmore last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Over the past 12 seasons, just four clubs have ended the year with the Moclair Cup in their possession and for nine of those years, it was passed between Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber, with Ballaghaderreen winning twice and Charlestown once.

So whoever wins this year's title, it is going to be heading to a different home for the first time in over a decade. Ballina Stephenites, of course, have won more titles than any other club in the county - winning 36 in total - the last of those coming in 2007 and marking them the last side outside of the aforementioned clubs to lift the old trophy.

Knockmore come next in the list with eight senior crowns to their name, the last, 23 years ago, while neither Breaffy or Westport have ever claimed the title - an itch both will be badly looking to scratch this year.

This year also has seen the four sides who made the semi-final stage all coming from the same two groups and the pairings having already met before, with advantage to Westport and Ballina at this stage, with both sides having narrow one-point wins in the group stages, showing how close these should be at the weekend.

The best in the west

Breaffy v Westport

Saturday, September 5 at 7.15pm in MacHale Park

This Saturday night's showdown is one that will have everyone's appetite whetted ahead of throw-in. When the sides met in the first round of group games, Westport went home from Breaffy with a single point win - but they had built up a big advantage by the three-quarter mark and were very nearly reeled in by Breaffy at the end.

The match-up between Aidan O'Shea and Lee Keegan is one that everyone will have their eyes on in this game. In their previous meeting, O'Shea stayed in at full-forward throughout the game, with Keegan picking him up. Even when Breaffy were over half-a-dozen points down, the Mayo captain stayed stationed in his position, rather than coming out the field as he often would. That decision would have had as much to do with Breaffy realising that keeping Keegan penned into his own full-back line nullified the threat he would pose going forward, along with keeping O'Shea as the big threat in front of goal.

Westport have been very impressive this year - but they probably should have won a number of games by more than they did at full time. Even last Sunday they missed a number of goal and point chances in the quarter-final against The Neale and they should have had the south Mayo men put to bed long before they did. If they do that again this weekend they could be in trouble.

Up front, Mark Moran and Colm Moran have been in very good form and shutting them down will be a key area of concern for Breaffy, with Mark probably squaring off against Seamus O'Shea and Dylan Cannon, who missed last weekend's game, suspended, picking up Colm. The Breaffy full-back line was under a lot of pressure early doors last weekend and is something that Westport will be keen to probe regularly again this Saturday night, with Kevin Keane also a serious target up front for them and he did considerable damage in the group stage meeting of the sides. Fionn McDonagh had to go off near the end the last day for Westport and they will be hoping he's ok to start, while in Killian Kilkenny, they have a serious set-piece taker who is also dangerous from play. Breaffy also saw Michael Hall have to put up his hand to exit the action early last weekend and they will need him as fit as can be to square off against McDonagh.

In the middle of the park, Breaffy look to have the stronger hand with Mattie Ruane and Conor O'Shea squaring off against Eoin McLaughlin and Brian O'Malley and it is in the middle third area that Breaffy have really gotten a foothold in the games they've gone on to win this year.

The big expected battle between Aidan O'Shea and Keegan has already been mentioned and the Westport defence have been well warned that silly fouling will be punished with both Colm Flynn and Robert Hennelly well capable of slotting over points from frees from just outside the 45 and closer in. Robbie Fadden's athleticism and fielding ability from wing-forward is something that Breaffy will look to utilise and James Minogue's physicality and passing ability is something that Peter Ford and Shane Conway will hope to see work out.

The Westport full-back line with the likes of Rory Brickenden and Ben Doyle will have to be on their toes and both are well able to get the better of their direct opponents and get the frantic and fast-paced attacks that Westport have used all year, moving very quickly.

All in all - this one should come down to the wire - both sides have advantages in certain areas and having already won out in their meeting this season, Westport might just shade it - but it is going to be close and extra-time is a very real possibility.

Verdict: Westport

The north is on the rise

Knockmore v Ballina Stephenites

Sunday, September 6 at 3.45pm in MacHale Park

There would have been plenty of chat and old war stories told in the watering holes around Ballina and Knockmore this week, if they were open. This is one of the big rivalries of the game in the county, while the Stephenites have 36 times been the kings of Mayo - Knockmore won eight from 1973 to 1997 and there is no love lost between either.

It's been a while since both were at the top of the tree in Mayo and the return of both as serious, serious contenders, at the same time will warm the soul of north Mayo football folk who will feel it's been too long that the Moclair Cup has been away from their embrace.

Knockmore were the story of last weekend - sending three-in-a-row chasing Ballintubber crashing out of the competition with a performance etched in both hard work and silky skills. Ray Dempsey and his team have put together a fiercely hard working side, mixed with youth and experience and a sheer determination.

They tackled hard - yet didn't dive in when they didn't need to or give away silly frees and broke with pace and power when they got the chance, to devastating effect.

Ballina were the model of efficiency against Aghamore who they dispatched with relative ease on Sunday afternoon and were able to keep Mayo man Ciaran Tracey in reserve for this weekend's hostilities.

The midfield battle will be a fascinating duel with Mikey Murray and Jack Irwin facing up against Shane McHale and Kevin McLoughlin, the latter has been sitting back a bit more this year covering his defence but still has the ability to cut through that sector and link in with attacks.

The Ballina rearguard are teak tough operators - but will miss the calming influence of Ger Cafferkey who is out injured, but they do have, of course, the confidence and man machine that is Padraig O'Hora to drive them on, while they also brought the experienced David O'Mahony into the side the last day to add some extra physicality. But the likes of Chris Hunt, Thomas Dohety and Stephen Mullins know they will have to be on top of their game - as Peter Naughton, Aiden Orme and Keith Ruttledge are more than capable of causing serious damage if the chips fall their way.

Darren McHale hit 2-2 for Knockmore in the quarter-finals and he'll expect to have O'Hora for company where ever he goes this time, while Conell Dempsey and Pearse Ruttledge will have to hit the high notes for the men in saffron and blue.

For Ballina, Evan Regan has been in flying form, winning plenty of ball and kicking a good return all year and David McHale will have to keep serious tags on him - but it's not just he that will pose serous questions for the Knockmore defence, with Keith Tight, Sean Regan, Simon Leonard and Conor McStay all dangerous forwards and with the likes of Tracey and Frank Irwin all live options from the bench, there will be no let-up for them.

When the sides met in the last round of group games, Ballina emerged on top with a late rally having survived a few minutes with just 13 players after two of their troop got black cards. Knockmore's attack failed to fire in the second half of that game and they will not want to let that happen again. Much like the first game, this is one that will go right to the wire and discipline could be key to which side of the fence the result falls.

Verdict: Knockmore.


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