We have two unique county senior semi finals to look forward to this weekend. It's a healthy sign to see different teams make it to the last four, besides the same old 'same old' every year.
First up, it's county champions Knockmore against a very in-form Garrymore in the Centre of Excellence at 7pm on Saturday. After watching Knockmore dismantle Charlestown in the flesh, it was easy to suggest that it will take a very good team to beat them - and it will.
However, the loss of play-maker and score-getter Darren McHale somewhat evens this game up a bit. The champions were made work to the bitter end by Ballintubber but from some of the passages of play in that game, you can't see why they are the title-holders. Kieran King marshals the defence superbly, sweeping, snuffing out danger and pressing up on opponents when the need is there. Kevin McLoughlin and Shane McHale are a perfect foil for each other in the middle of the field: One that will control the game and spray the ball into dangerous areas and the other a glorified workhorse who cares for no one.
Garrymore love nothing more than upsetting the odds and will enter this one fully believing they can do it again. They have been very impressive so far and for me it was no surprise they defeated Castlebar in the quarter finals. Trevor Nally, Caolan Crowe and Enda Hession are a very effective half back line but the battle between David Dolan and the very impressive Gary Golden with the aforementioned Knockmore midfield duo, will go a long way in deciding this game. For me, Knockmore's experience and depth of reserves sways the tie in their favour, even without Darren McHale.
On paper, Westport should be wiping the floor with whoever they come up against but as Ballina showed in the quarter final, Westport are certainly beatable.
Westport also have to deal with the loss of the influential Kevin Keane, who suffered what looked like another serious injury. They are blessed with county talent all over the pitch and are so rich in reserves, a fit-again Mark Moran and Ben Doyle (both Mayo senior players in 2021 ), cannot get into their starting line-ups.
It was Colm Moran and Alan Kennedy who led the resurgence against Ballina when they looked in real trouble trailing by 1-04 to zip at the first half water break. With the team they have, you expect them to cut loose at any moment in any game, but that is not the way it works as teams are so well prepared and set up against them.
There is huge expectancy on Westport this year but that may go against them and suit Belmullet, who are quietly but very effectively going about their business.
Damien Mulligan's team have beaten Knockmore and last year's finalists Breaffy en route to Sunday's semi final and cannot be overlooked. The O'Donoghues, Ryan and Eoghan, have been superb. I fully expect Lee Keegan will be detailed with nullifying the effect and threat of Ryan on Sunday, so there’s a duel worth waiting for.
Westport though have to be given credit for the way they didn't panic as they hung on against a very determined and dogged Ballina, only going ahead in the 64th minute. They should make it to the final. For me, it's Knockmore and Westport to come through this weekend.
Mayo looked out for themselves
Proposal B failed to make the adequate quota at congress - meaning the championship will revert back to the old qualifier system we had from a few years back. Many might not realise the benefit this provides from a Mayo perspective. Had the proposal passed, Mayo would have had to defeat a number of division one teams in the championship that would be played in a league format to make it into an All-Ireland quarter final.
Let's face it, It's a lot more negotiable for Mayo going through a Connacht championship to make a quarter final. The big flaw with proposal B was the fact that the Provincial championships were deemed glorified warm-ups to the real championship, with no benefit whatsoever for the Provincial winners. You could see why the four Provincial councils wanted nothing to do with it.