Senior contenders ready to do battle

GAA: Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Semi-Finals

Guiding Garry: David Dolan will be looking to help Garrymore book their place in the senior final this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Guiding Garry: David Dolan will be looking to help Garrymore book their place in the senior final this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile.

Come Sunday afternoon at around 4pm and we will know who is going to be battling it out for the Moclair Cup in a fortnight's time.

Will it be Garrymore - who are looking for their seventh Mayo title and first since 1982? Or will it be defending champions, Knockmore, nine-time winners in the past, who make it out of their semi-final clash? The meeting of those two sides gets things going in the senior championship this weekend, when they play it out in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan on Saturday night at 7pm.

The second semi-final, was pencilled in for Breaffy on Sunday afternoon at 2pm, but was moved on Wednesday evening to Ballina. Mayo GAA vice-chairperson Con Moynihan told the Mayo Advertiser that the game was moved due to capacity issues, with well over 800 tickets being sold up to Wednesday between the clubs, before they even wen on general sale and that they had leased with Ballina Stephenites who said the pitch would be playable for this weekend and the county final in two weeks time.

This clash will see two sides looking to claim their maiden senior title battle it out, when Westport and Belmullet meet. Both sides' rise over the past number of years has been dramatic, with Westport winning the intermediate title in 2016 and Belmullet just two years later.

Taking things in order of action - the meeting of Knockmore and Garrymore on Saturday evening is a mouthwatering encounter; Knockmore picked themselves up from what was at the time a surprise loss to Belmullet in round two of the group stages (but not so surprising, now we have seen what the Belmullet men have done since ) to dispose of Charlestown in a winner takes all clash in round three and then edge out Ballintubber in a dramatic quarter final.

Garrymore - have been moving efficiently and effectively all year in the championship; wins over Kiltane and the The Neale and a draw with Breaffy in round three of the group stages, set them up for a quarter-final against Castlebar Mitchels. They hit the ground running in that one and never looked in danger of losing it. Now standing in their way is Knockmore.

Ray Dempsey has put together a serious outfit from the banks of Lough Conn - packed full of quality players, who are able to dominate games on both the front and back foot; when they get going they take some stopping. Colm Reape in goal is top class (his understudy Ryan McDonnell, proved to be no bad option when thrown into the white-heat of the action in the quarter-final ), David McHale, Kieran King, Conor Flynn et al at the back will lock down the best there is out there. In the middle of the park, Shane McHale will be key, alongside him either Kevin Mcloughlin or Connell Dempsey will make up a serious pairing; while in attack, Peter Naughton, Aidan Orme, Pearse Rutledge and, if fit, Darren McHale - have enough tricks and tropes to take on any defence along with enough steel to battle it out with the most hardened of defenders.

But Garrymore aren't here by chance, Damien Egan has blended together a fine syndicate of south Mayo's best and brightest on the field. Their half back line of Trevor Nally, Caolan Crowe and Enda Hession - bring both a suffocating stockade and piercing threat in attack. David Dolan and Gary Golden will have no fear of mixing it with the best out there in the middle of the park - while Shane Nally can pick apart a defence with a pass or plough the ball over the bar from distance; Paul Deeley will be dependable on placed balls and Darren Quinn and Liam Óg Horan will not be found wanting in attack. In games like this the nod is normally given to the team with the greater experience and Knockmore have that after winning last year, but there could be a new southern star on the rise - but everything will have to go right for them against the northern strongmen.

The meeting of Westport and Belmullet looks to be an irresistible force paradox playing out in front of our eyes. Westport will bring their bright, breezy and free-flowing game to Breaffy - looking to pick passes in between what looks like impossibly tight angles, while Belmullet will be ready to lock the doors, close off every avenue of danger and hit hard on the break when they get the chance.

Westport will be down Kevin Keane after he picked up an injury in their quarter-final win over Ballina, while Keane will be a loss as a focal point of their attack - it will also pose other problems for Belmullet if Westport decide to unleash a fleeter of foot forward into the mix and drag their defence from pillar to post. Ryan O'Donoghue is the danger man for Belmullet up top; will Westport dragoon Lee Keegan into doing a man-marking job on him and rob everything else Keegan brings to the party from their game plan? Or will they trust Niall McManamon or Rory Brickenden to do so? These are big questions that will have been teased out under the shadow of Croagh Patrick this week.

Both sides have plenty of potential to pose each other serious questions, that will take deep thinking to figure out - Westport look to be that little bit further down the track at this stage - but only a fool would count Belmullet out of it.


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