This weekend sees the start of the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship with eight games taking place across four different groups. Knockmore are the defending champions and the rest of the pack will be going all guns blazing to hunt down Ray Dempsey's men this time around. We look ahead to all the action over a hectic weekend of games.
Claremorris v Davitts
Saturday at 5pm in Claremorris
These two will both be punching above their expected weight if they manage to make it out of the group - but they will both want to get off to a winning start in this one. The visitors were plying their trade in Division 3B in the league, where they finished in third place behind junior sides Islandeady and Cill Chomain, with two wins from five. Claremorris were in Division 1A where they finished bottom of the table with one win and draw from five games. Ray Connelly is still in charge of the hosts - he’ll be looking to the likes of James McCormack, Conor Diskin, Stephen McGreal, Stephen Gill and James Shaughnessy to lead the way. Paul Carey is the man on the line for Davitts and the likes of Cathal Hennelly, Josh and Jack Roynane along with Colm Boyle will be key men for the side.
Ballintubber v Ballina Stephenites
Saturday at 5pm in Clogher
Enda Gilvarry is the new man in charge of Ballintubber this season after Kevin Johnson stepped aside after winning two Moclair Cups in his three years in charge. His championship campaign with the ‘Tubber gets underway with the side he managed up to the end of last season coming to visit. The loss of Cillian O’Connor is going to be severely felt by the ‘Tubber in their attack - but they will welcome back to the fold Michael Plunkett, Bryan Walsh and Diarmuid O’Connor after their exploits with Mayo. Ballintubber know how to win championship games and the likes of Jason Gibbons and Damien Coleman will be key lieutenants on the field for him. Ballina have plenty of potential mixed with experience in their side. Niall Heffernan is the man on the line for them this year and with Ger Cafferkey, David Clarke and Padraig O’Hora keeping things tight at the back, they will be hard to break down. Up from Evan Regan, Luke Doherty (who was part of Mayo’s 41 man panel this term ) and Conor McStay will be key men. Home advantage might just swing this one narrowly.
Knockmore v Aghamore
Saturday at 5pm in Knockmore
The defending champions will be looking to get their title defence off to a winning start when Aghamore come calling on Saturday evening. Ray Dempsey’s charges haven’t had the greatest of league campaigns, finishing with one win and a draw from their five games, but championship will be a very different animal for this side. Kevin McLoiughlin, Darren McHale (if fit ), Aiden Orme and Colm Reape will be back in situ after their Mayo involvement - while they will also have the likes of Peter Naughton, Shane McHale and Connell Dempsey as key men. Aghamore finished in second place in the same division as Knockmore in the league with two wins and a draw - the draw coming when these sides met in a low-scoring encounter on the opening evening of the league. Brendan Harrison and Fergal Boland will be back after their Mayo involvement. But Paddy Finnegan’s charges will be looking to others like Ross Egan and Darren Duffy to also play big roles. It could be a close encounter, but Knockmore should get off to winning ways.
Charlestown v Belmullet
Sunday at 2pm in Charlestown
Martin Mulvanny’s Charlestown have been motoring along nicely so far this season, they won the Michael Walsh league and shook off losing their first three league games to see off Ballina Stephenites and Knockmore in the last two games to finish that competition strongly. They were unlucky last year in the group of death to finish bottom of the pile after some impressive showings and will be looking to push on this year. Paul Towey has been involved with the Mayo seniors this year, while Jack Mahon and Jack Reilly will be key men also, alongside Paddy Goldrick and Gareth O’Donnell. Belmullet have Damien Mulligan back in charge for another swing this year, and will be looking for their form line to improve since the league. They will welcome back to the fold Ryan O’Donoghue and Eoin O’Donoghue from the Mayo senior set up, while Owen McHale could be another key man along with James Kelly and Marty Boylan. Home advantage could swing this one.
Balla v Castlebar Mitchels
Saturday at 5pm in Balla
Balla surprised almost everyone, bar themselves last year, in claiming the intermediate title and they will be keen to push on hard in their first game back up in senior. Welcoming near neighbours Castlebar Mitchels in the opening round is a spicy encounter that is sure to have plenty of action on the field. Ger Butler is still in charge of the home side and his youthful outfit will be looking to follow in the footsteps of the last three intermediate champions to make it to the last eight on their first attempt after promotion. Matthew Flanagan, Conor Walsh, Gary McHale, Conor Dunleavy and Ger Flanagan will all be key men for the hosts. This is a big year for Mitchels under Alan Flynn - they were squeezed into third place in the group of death last year and missed out on the last eight for the first time in well over a decade. They will be chomping at the bit to put that right this time and have huge experience and a great injection of up-and-coming talent that could see them go all the way. Neil Douglas, Barry Moran, Donal Vaughan, Rory Byrne are all on hand while Paul Walsh, Gavin Durcan, Ultan O’Reilly and Paddy Heneghan are all rising stars and you can throw in Paddy Durcan, James Durcan and Rory Byrne back from Mayo duty to the mix. It’ll be tough - but Mitchels greater experience should see them home.
Verdict: Castlebar Mitchels
Westport v Ballaghaderren
Sunday at 3.30pm in Westport
This is probably the game of the weekend - two teams with desires of claiming the Moclair Cup; both sides will be disappointed with how they exited the championship last term and this is one where a loss could be fatal to their chances of making it out of the group. The hosts had no less than six players in the Mayo set-up this year and Martin Calvey and Martin Connolly will be hoping they integrate back into the set-up quickly. Apart from that half-a-dozen, they have serious depth elsewhere with Kevin Keane, Alan Kenny, Pat Lambert, Shane Scott and Paddy O’Malley to name a few. The visitors have former All Ireland winning u21 manager Mike Solan in as joint manager alongside Andy Moran this year - with Moran still leading the attack on the field also. With a few injuries to get over for key men, the likes of Seamus Cunniffe, David Drake, Cormac Doohan, Sharoize Akram, Ryan Lynch, Owen Jordan and Kuba Callaghan will have to be on their game. This should be another tight one, with the chance to be a high-scoring affair. Westport will be looking for home advantage to count, while Ballagh’ will be hoping having a more or less settled side all year work in their favour.
Breaffy v The Neale
Sunday at 2pm in Breaffy
The home side have been the 'nearly men' of the last few years, losing last year's county final to Knockmore, which was their fourth defeat in the final in eight years and they will be chomping at the bit to put it right this year. Martin McIntyre is the man on the line for them this term and they finished top of division 1B this year in the league, going unbeaten. They had four men involved with Mayo this year and will welcome them back into the fold for the championship. McIntyre gave plenty of game time to his squad in the league and will hoping to hit the ground running with the likes of Colm Flynn, James Minogue, Robbie Fadden and Seamus O’Shea also going to be key men for them. The Neale caused a bit of surprise last year making it into the last eight of the championship and Eoin Hughes’ men will be looking to back that up again this year. Tommy Conroy will be their key man in attack - but others like Sean Cosgrove, Fergal Sweeney, Ronan Hughes and Brian O’Halloran will be key men for the south Mayo outfit. But Breaffy look too strong and should get off to winning ways.
Garrymore v Kiltane
Sunday at 2pm in Garrymore
Both sides will be targeting this game as one they will be looking to win to make a drive to the knock-out stages of the championship. The south Mayo men performed very well in Division 1A in the league and will be looking to kick on from there. Damien Egan’s side were bolstered this year by the return of Enda Varley to the club after a few years in Dublin, while Enda Hession’s exploits for Mayo have marked him out as a major player. They will also be able to call on the likes of Shane Nally, Caolan Crowe, Cathal Slattery, Trevor Nally and Gary Golden to play key roles in this one. The league couldn’t have gone worse for Kiltane, they lost all five games in Division 1B, but the Bangor men are a different animal come championship time - they live and breath for it. Liam Devlin and Michael Doocey are the men on the line this year for them and they will be looking for the likes of Tommy Conroy, Ultan Corrigan, Mikie Sweeney, Sean Gaughan and others to step up. Whoever picks up the win will put themselves in a good spot for claiming a spot in the quarter-finals - but the home side should have enough.