Balla and Kiltimagh battle it out to be the best

GAA: Mayo GAA Intermediate Football Championship Final

Up and over: Kiltimagh captain Eoghan Lavin will be hoping to lift the Sweeney Cup tomorrow evening. Photo: Ciara Buckley

Up and over: Kiltimagh captain Eoghan Lavin will be hoping to lift the Sweeney Cup tomorrow evening. Photo: Ciara Buckley

When the first two rounds of group games had been played a few weeks ago, not too many would have predicted that Kiltimagh and Balla would be squaring off on Saturday night to lift the Sweeney Cup.

At that stage, Kiltimagh had been held to two draws and Balla had lost one and won one and were heading into their final group games, needing to win to book their places in the last eight of the competition.

But since then, these near neighbours have answered every question that has been posed to them and are rightfully getting ready to try and claim the Mayo Intermediate Football crown.

For Kiltimagh, the upper reaches of the intermediate championship is something they have become used to - having lost in the final of the competition in both 2016 and 2017 - the latter after a replay.

Ger McNicholas has crafted a battle-harder side with plenty of experience and youthful vigour - they got over Crossmolina Deel Rovers after a tough battle in the quarter-finals and then threw out of the competition many people's favourites - Hollymount-Carramore in the semi-final.

Kiltimagh will be looking for big games from the likes of goalkeeper Jamie McNicholas, defenders, including rising star Donovan Cosgrove and veteran Conor Heneghan, with the likes of Paul Kelly and Séan Walsh also needed to be on top form.

Further up the field they have plenty of quality to draw on, with Eoghan Lavin, Brian Gallagher, TJ Byrne and Tomás Keegan all capable game winners - along with Conor Mallee, who chipped in with two points from the bench in their semi-final win.

Balla will go into this game as the underdogs - but that won't bother Ger Butler and his charges at all. The West Mayo men have never won this competition before, but they have made steady progress over the past few years, thanks to good work at underage coming to fruition, having won minor, u21 and junior championships in the recent past.

They have a side with a very solid backline, with goal keeper Matthew Flanagan and defenders Ger Holian, Ger Flanagan and Conor Dunleavy, a quality unit.

In the middle of the park, Barry Duffy and JP Reilly have been putting in some very good showings over the past number of weeks and make a solid foundation. Up front, Balla have the players to test the Kilitmagh rearguard with Colm Murphy, Gary McHale and Conor Walsh well capable of winning their own battles and taking the game to the east Mayo men.

They have also been using Val Roughneen as an impact sub this season and he has brought a calming effect to their game when introduced and chipped in with a brace of points in their semi-final win over Ballinrobe two weeks ago.

The experience from the past in these games would see you favour Kiltimagh to claim the title for the first time since 2001 and they may have the greater need to win this game at this stage of their development as a team.

But Balla are a hungry club, and with a team packed full of players who are used to picking up county medals at different grades, they won't fear playing on the big day.

It's another game that will go right down to the wire - Kiltimagh should edge it, but Balla are not going to go away easy and don't be surprised to see this one go to extra-time.

Verdict: Kiltimagh

Mayo GAA Intermediate Football Championship Final

Kiltimagh v Balla

Saturday, September 19 at 8pm

In MacHale Park.

 

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