Anyone that was of the opinion that Knockmore were on the slide and that the reigning champions weren't capable of holding onto their crown after losing out to Belmullet in round two, had their concerns emphatically answered after Ray Dempsey's team did a demolition job on Charlestown Sarsfields in round three in Breaffy winning, by 3-15 to 2-10.
Many felt the Sarsfields had a great chance to dethrone them but two very early goals set the tone for what was about to unfold. The first goal - a great finish from Darren McHale; the other goal coming from a speculative lob by wing back Conor Finn into the Charlestown box, that fortuitously found its way into the net.
It should have been dealt with by the Charlestown rearguard. There was barely two minutes on the clock when the second goal went in. Knockmore played some scintillating football for the entirety of the game, leading at one stage by 15 points. This was a very solid all round performance by the county champions.
Knockmore were extremely well organised in defence and up front, McHale, Aidan Orme, Peter Naughton and Pearse Ruttledge, led the Charlestown defence a merry dance. One of Naughton's points was as good as you will see from a skills point of view. He dissected the posts after not one but two dummy solos sent Charlestown players the wrong way.
Shane McHale's physicality was another notable feature of this contest, he got through some amount of work in the middle of the field. Two late goals for Charlestown glossed the scoreline somewhat but the game was well over at that stage. On this showing, the county champions will be hard stopped. In the other group 2 game, Belmullet had to deal with a scare as Aughamore made all the early running - Damien Mulligan's team eventually winning out by the slimmest of margins of 1-09 to 1-08 to top the group.
We had a pulsating contest under Friday night lights in Aghamore as Ballaghadeereen and Castlebar couldn't be separated, sending Castlebar through to the quarter finals on scoring difference ahead of Andy Moran’s team. It took a little while for this one to get going but when it did, it became intriguing.
Castlebar raced into an early big lead in the first quarter but Ballagh fought their way back thanks to some fine point-scoring from Cormac Doohan. A Sharoize Akram goal in the third quarter looked like it was going to be a game-changer but, through substitute Anthony Boyle, the Mitchels resumed control, Boyle scoring three critical points. It was heartbreak for Ballagh as a last gasp chance fell to Akram but his effort went narrowly wide.
Ballintubber also looked really good as they cemented top spot in group one, scoring 3-17 against Claremorris. That was without county player Bryan Walsh and of course, the injured Cillian O'Connor. Stephen O'Malley has taken on Cillian's responsibility with the bulk of the scoring and of course the free-taking, helping himself to 0-9 last weekend.
Ballina have joined Ballintubber in the quarter finals after eventually getting the better of Davitts in round 3 played in Charlestown.
There was nothing between these two entering the last quarter but a late rally from Ballina, including a Luke Doherty goal, left it a comfortable finish for the Stephenites in the end. Kevin Newell picked up an injury in the first minute, which will surely leave him doubtful for this weekend. His replacement last Sunday, a man with plenty of inter-county experience, Ciaran Tracey, scored 0-3 from play after coming on. Breaffy and Garrymore also finished level at 2-09 apiece, sending Garrymore through as group winners on scoring difference ahead of Breaffy. The Neale had a big win over Kiltane maintaining their senior status for 2022.
Last eight showdowns
We have another epic weekend ahead of us this weekend as the semi-final spots are up for grabs. Ballintubber's booby prize for emphatically winning their group is a quarter-final against county champions, Knockmore, in the COE at 5pm on Saturday.
This has the potential to be a mouth-watering contest if last weekend is anything to go by, a game fitting for the final. Westport will fancy themselves against Ballina at 3pm on Saturday in the first of the quarter-finals, both games going out live on RTE television.
Westport’s 3-16 haul from last weekend against Balla is all the more impressive considering Fionn McDonagh was sent off before the first half water break after picking up a yellow and black card in quick succession.
Both Breaffy and Castlebar will be favoured to prevail from the other two quarter-finals on Sunday against Belmullet and Garrymore, respectively, but these games are far from straightforward and are fraught with danger as Belmullet and Garrymore were very impressive in the group stages. For me, the four teams to make the senior semi-finals are Westport, Knockmore, Breaffy and Garrymore.
The future to be decided on Saturday
Saturday of course is also the day the GAA special congress decides on whether or not to alter the structure of the championship for the 2022 season by either voting for Proposal A or Proposal B or letting the format stay as it is. Proposal A is a definite non-runner as it involves getting counties to change provinces for the championship.
Proposal B is all about getting as many competitive games for players against teams of their ability throughout the summer months. The provincial championships will be run as a warm-up competition before the league-based championship throws in. You can see why the provincial councils want nothing to do with it.
The proposals require a backing of 60% to be implemented. Despite some counties declaring their support for Proposal B over the last few days, I'm not sure if either will be passed. It would be a lot tougher for Mayo to make a quarter final if Proposal B is passed.