When the draw was made for the Mayo senior football championship, all eyes were on group three, the group of death as it got effectively called, that included- Ballaghadeereen, Westport, Castlebar Mitchels and the unfortunate Balla.
The consensus was that the likely winners of the Moclair cup or team best suited to dethrone Knockmore would come from this group.
Not many took a second glance at group two that included Knockmore, Belmullet, Charlestown and Aughamore. Knockmore were supposed to win group two comfortably and who finished second was to be a toss-up between the other three. After Belmullet drew with Charlestown- a game Belmullet could so easily have lost in round one - that was still the general feeling.
However, Belmullet's shock win at the time in round two against champions Knockmore certainly had punters stand up and take notice of what Damien Mulligan's team had achieved. They were now in pole position and Knockmore were in need of a big result in the final group game against Charlestown to progress.
Knockmore didn't fluff their lines as it turned out and blitzed Charlestown while Belmullet had to come from behind against Aghamore to top the group. Rank outsiders for their quarter final against Breaffy and semi final against Westport, Belmullet tore up the script both days to make it to their first final since 1981.
Their progression since that first day out against Charlestown has been nothing short of staggering. They have literally got better game by game and now have turned themselves into a very difficult team to beat. Knockmore's march to the final after the group stages wasn't the simplest either.
A very experienced Ballintubber had to be navigated in the quarter final while a resurgent Garrymore made them work very hard last time out in the semi final. Who can forget the drama at the end of their quarter final against Ballintubber when stand-in keeper Ryan McDonnell saved Diarmuid O Connor's last second penalty. Upon such moments Championships are won and lost.
Sunday's final is intriguing, fascinating and unique all at the same time. The fact that both teams met already in the group stages adds to the intrigue, adds a bit of bite to it. The fact that Belmullet defeated Knockmore already adds a bit of friction and can only be a good thing for Ray Dempsey's team.
Any form of complacency is immediately eradicated, not that you should be complacent in a final anyway. This year's final is hosted by Ballina Stephenites because of the resurfacing of MacHale Park, which, as it turns out, will be Belmullet's 4th championship match in Ballina in 2021. Knockmore haven't played a championship match there in years.
From memory, the last championship game Knockmore played in Ballina was a quarter final against Castlebar Mitchels when Ray Dempsey wasn't even their manager.
No matter what way you size that up, that’s a huge advantage for Belmullet who will literally know every blade of grass at this stage. Match ups and tactics will be of utmost importance. Ryan O'Donoghue has been Belmullet's match-winner in almost every game, scoring some crucial goals along the way.
Ray Dempsey will know that stopping him having a major impact will go a long way in winning back-to-back titles. It's probably not a job for one man either so expect Ryan to be getting that extra bit of attention no matter where he is on the pitch. Darren McHale was in a protective space boot for his team's semi final so one can only presume he will not be fit for Sunday. He is a huge loss to Knockmore. Everything good they do normally goes through him. Alan Stadlier, another highly rated Knockmore defender, is also a huge loss to his team. It certainly weakens them somewhat.
Knockmore should win this game but Belmullet will fear no-one at this stage. All the above matters considered evens this contest up no end.
James Kelly, Eoin O'Donoghue and Colin Barrett will feel they will have the measure of whatever Connell Dempsey, Aidan Orme and Peter Naughton will throw at them. Naughton and Orme had quiet semi finals by their standards, it will be hard to keep them quiet for two outings in a row.
Jerome Henry is in charge for the final, he will need to be on top of his game as this will be a proper battle and is guaranteed to get feisty and could easily boil over if it's let get out of hand. He will have to stamp his authority on the game from the get-go.
Expect a low-scoring contest with packed defences and forwards getting frustrated. Taking chances from frees will be of the utmost importance. If the game is tight going down the stretch - and I expect it to be, Knockmore's cavalry, who have been to the fore time and time again, could be the difference. For anyone unlucky enough not to be able to make it, Tg4 are showing it live on Sunday. Verdict: Knockmore, just about.