Elite eight get ready to battle it out over the weekend

GAA: Mayo GAA SFC Quarter Finals

Meeting again: Shane McHale and his Knockmore team-mates will be clashing with Ballintubber for the second year in-a-row in the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

Meeting again: Shane McHale and his Knockmore team-mates will be clashing with Ballintubber for the second year in-a-row in the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship. Photo: Sportsfile.

After three rounds of action in the group stages and 24 games, the 16 teams that were at the starting line of the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship has been whittled down to eight, and by Sunday evening there will be just four teams left standing in the race for the Paddy Moclair Cup.

This weekend's action in the senior championship gets under way with a double header of action in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence on a serious Saturday of action, that will be followed by a super Sunday with the other quarter finals in Ballina and Claremorris.

The young pretenders take on the old stagers

Everyone is expecting Westport to make the breakthrough and win their maiden Moclair Cup soon - they have been making waves in the championship in recent years and picked up plenty of experience along the way, and will be looking to keep that going against Ballina Stephenites on Saturday. This year - they have lit the touch paper early and look like the real deal. They disposed of Ballaghaderreen and Castlebar in the opening two rounds, and didn't take their foot off the gas in round three when they could have, knowing they were already in the last eight and topping their group. Martin Calvey and Martin Connolly put out a full-strength side against Balla, including a fit-again Eoghan McLaughlin and ripped through Balla for fun. Lee Keegan - is doing exactly what he has always done, showing why he's one of the very best players in the country. Kevin Keane continues to be a threat at full forward, using all his experience of playing most of his career as full back to torment full backs, by bringing them to places they don't want to go. Throw in Rory Brickenden, Niall McManamon, Alan Keendey, Shane Scott, Mark Moran - they have talent aplenty to choose from. Ballina Stephenites will be ready and waiting for them, the north Mayo men got off to a shaky start going down to Ballintubber in round one, but since then they have found their groove. Winning county championships is what the north Mayo men do, the Moclair Cup has wintered in their homestead more than another team, 36 times in total. It may be 14 years since it last did, but they will be licking their lips at having a crack at the newest pretenders to the throne. Padraig O'Hora is the beating heart of this team and his all-action style will be something the Westport attackers will have to not only try and get away from, but curb if he goes downfield. Ger Cafferkey has been around the block long enough to know how to handle most attackers and his battle with Keane will be one to keep an eye on. David Clarke limped out of their round two clash with Claremorris and didn't play against Davitts last weekend and they will be hopeful he's able to be back between the posts. They also pack plenty of threat up top with Evan Regan, Conor McStay, Luke Doherty and Kevin Newell all well able to take their scores, they were also bolstered last weekend by the return to action of Ciaran Tracey. Westport have the momentum and the form, Ballina have the history - but Westport are the coming team.

The champions strike back and the Tubber look to win it back

This is the one that nobody wants to miss this weekend. Last Saturday afternoon, Knockmore made sure that anyone who thought they were going to give up their crown easily were left in no doubt, that it was a daydream. Ballintubber kept their ruthless start to the championship up, by dismantling Claremorris at their ease and claiming top spot in their group. While top spot would normally give you some sort of advantage in the last eight, fate intervened and they were paired with the north Mayo men. Not that it will bother the boys from Abbeyside at all. Not only do they believe they can beat anyone, they know they can, as they have shown so many times in recent years. No Cillian O'Connor, no problem for them so far with Stephen O'Malley taking on that role with ease and confidence. In the middle of the park, Jason Gibbons continues to show why he has been the most effective club midfielder in the game for the past decade, bending games to his will as he charges from end to end - while Diarmuid O'Connor does what he does, to keep things moving. Throw in Michael Plunkett, Bryan Walsh (who missed the Claremorris game ), Damien Coleman, Ciaran Gavin, Keelan McDonnell and more - there is a cast of club stars there ready to show that they are the best. Standing in their way on Saturday is a Knockmore side, who looked to have gotten any dirty diesel that was in the tank well out of their system in the weeks between their loss to Belmullet in round two and their round three demolition of Charlestown. They made short work of the east Mayo men, running in two goals inside the opening two minutes and dominating the game from pillar to post, with just two late, late injury time goals from Charlestown putting a gloss on the scoreboard. Ray Dempsey has put together a well-oiled side, who all know their roles and are willing to execute it exactly, but a side that still has a sprinkle of the individual magic you need to be the best of the best. Shane McHale and Kevin McLoughlin will put in huge efforts in the middle of the park, Kieran King and Sean Holmes along with David McHale will shut down the best attackers out there, while up top, Darren McHale, Aiden Orme, Peter Naughton and Adam Naughton will be ready to take whatever chances come their way. A clash of the titans is in store - but the defending champions might just edge it. Much like the Mayo team, this may be the game where Ballintubber really miss Cillian O'Connor.

Belmullet ready for Breaffy bombardment

Belmullet making it out of their group might not be a surprise, but topping one that included the defending county champions was something that many didn't expect to happen. But that's exactly what Damien Mulligan's side have done this year and their reward is a clash with last year's beaten finalists, Breaffy, who Mulligan once managed. Another bit of spice added to the clash is the presence of former Belmullet player Martin McIntyre on the sideline for Breaffy this term. Belmullet have been led superbly all year by Ryan O'Donoghue, who has been the key man for them and he'll need to be on top form again on Sunday in this one. But there is a more than capable supporting cast, who can easily put in starting performances for the north Mayo men in the shape of Eoin O'Donoghue, James Kelly and Owen McHale. Belmullet were pushed all the way by Aghamore last weekend in Ballina, but when it came to the crunch, Ryan O'Donoghue held his nerve to kick the winning score. Breaffy haven't been firing on all cylinders just yet this season, they've done what they needed to do to get out of the group - but know there is much more in them. They played in fits and spurts against Garrymore last weekend and looked to be on the road to winning that one, before looking like they were going to let it slip away, only for an injury time goal to see them level it up. But if they can get Aidan O'Shea, Matthew Ruane, Conor O'Shea, Robbie Fadden, Michael Hally and Oisin Tunny all moving at full pelt, they should have enough to get out of this one. But, if they don't hit the levels they can, Belmullet could very easily be looking forward to a final four place in a fortnight's time.

Garry' look to storm the castle

The final quarter-final is one that looks very nicely balanced indeed. Garrymore topped their group on scoring difference from Breaffy after a 2-9 all draw last Saturday night, while Castlebar needed scoring difference to get over Ballaghaderreen and out of their group on Friday night. Garrymore look to be building something very nice in south Mayo, with Caolan Crowe looking on top of his game at the back, while Enda Hession is such a threat going forward as well as stopping play come the other way. Shane Nally still possesses one of the sweetest foot passes in the county and is capable of unlocking any defence with a ball, while Gary Golden, David Dolan and Mark Tierney are all going to be key men for Damien Egan's charges. Castlebar did what they had to do to get out of Aghamore last weekend with a place in the last eight, but there is still loads of room for Alan Flynn's side to improve - Paddy Durcan is key to everything good they are doing and another huge performance from him will be needed this time out, his brother James along with Neil Douglas will be looked to in attack to get things moving, along with Paddy Heneghan and Ultan O'Reilly. Johnny Maughan continues his progression as a quality player, while Ger McDonagh and Done Newcombe have been around the block more than once at the back and will be key leaders there. It's going to be a big day for both sides and a place in the final four will be a major milestone to hang the review of their season on. Castlebar have the experience, but Garrymore might be moving that little bit better - it's going to be fascinating.

Mayo GAA SFC Quarter Finals

Saturday, October 23

Westport v Ballina Stephenites at 3pm in Connacht GAA COE

Ballintubber v Knockmore at 5pm in Connacht GAA COE

Sunday, October 24

Belmullet v Breaffy at 1.30pm in Ballina

Garrymore v Castlebar Mitchels at 4pm in Claremorris

 

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