Champions look to put down challengers in northern battle

GAA: Mayo GAA SFC Final

Who will be kings: Belmullet and Kncokmore will face off in the Connacht Gold Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Final. Photo: Mayo GAA

Who will be kings: Belmullet and Kncokmore will face off in the Connacht Gold Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship Final. Photo: Mayo GAA

The location really could not be better for Sunday's Mayo Senior Football Championship final. With James Stephens Park in Ballina hosting two north Mayo sides battling it out to be the best in land, something special is brewing up for Sunday.

Picking a winner for this one is no easy task. At the start of the year, only the most fervent of Belmullet supporters would have confidently predicted their side would be standing where they are right now, and I'm sure there are some who saw this coming. But there they are and boy are they there on merit.

Coming out of a group that contented their opponents on Sunday along with Charlestown and Aghamore was no easy task, and beating Knockmore along the way, was the surprise of the round - but with what they have shown since, we should not have been that surprised. They followed that up with wins over Breaffy and Westport in the knock-out stages, games they went into once again as underdogs, but games they won deservedly so on both occasions.

Belmullet have a brilliantly mean defence, in their five games to date they have conceded just 2-41 (47 points ), that's just 9.4 points per game; with a defence that tight and tigerish, they have given themselves a great chance in every game to overcome the odds that had looked to have been stacked against them.

From Shane Nallen, who has been excellent in his sweeper-keeper role, through the likes of Colin Barrett, Shea O'Donoghue, Owen McHale and the ever-impressive Eoin O'Donoghue at centre-half-back who links the whole thing together, they are a seriously solid and dependable unit. They will need to keep up that level of consistency and tenacity on Sunday against a very good and clever Knockmore attack.

In the middle of the park Evan Ivers and Fionnán Ryan have been consistently winning their battles and providing a solid platform to work the ball through from defence to attack. The main man up front has been Ryan O'Donoghue - a man who his blossomed and grown this year, through his role with the Mayo seniors, which he has brought back to his game with his club.

O'Donoghue can be elusive and balletic on the ball, escaping from defenders and picking holes in rearguards with ease - but he's also got a steely edge and is not afraid to get stuck into the battle and won't be found wanting if the game comes down to a real battle. Figuring out how to lock him up is something Knockmore will have been busy working on for the past few weeks no doubt and if it's a tight affair on the scoreboard, his reliability from placed balls is something else his opponents have to think about.

But it's not just O'Donoghue they have to think about, with the likes of Dathaí Cosgrove, Jason Boylan and Marty Boylan all capable of having a big say on the scoreboard.

As for the defending champions, they've been here and done it before and will be banking on that knowledge and experience coming to their advantage on Sunday afternoon. Ray Dempsey has once again put together a very well-balanced side, who know exactly what they are trying to do when they go out on the field.

It will be interesting to see will they push up on Belmullet and try to choke them off in their own defence, leaving the back door open if Belmullet manage to spring out of that trap.

Ray Dempsey is a shrewd operator on the line and will have his side well keyed up for all possibilities. At the back, Colm Reape is as good as you get in the club game between the posts, with an excellent kick-out. In front of him, David McHale, Marcus Park, Kieran King, Sean Holmes and the others are a tenacious back six, who can play it hard and also play it fast with the ball in hand.

Shane McHale and Kevin McLoughlin have the experience and the guile to direct things in the middle of the park with devastating effect both physically and on the ball and will take some stopping by the Belmullet pairing; while up front, the expected absence of Darren McHale who limped out of their quarter-final win over Ballintubber, will be a big loss. However, Knockmore have shown they have more than adequate replacements on the bench with Keith Ruttledge (1-2 ) and Liam Durcan (0-2 ) making telling contributions from the bench in the semi-final.

That's before you talk about the influence that Peter Naughton, Aidan Orme, Pearse Ruttledge and Connell Demspey can have on the game in their starting attacking unit.

Knockmore are favourites - although they have lost to Belmullet already this year, they have upped the gears since and been very good when they needed to be to get back to this stage. Belmullet have been the fairytale story so far - but this one might not have a happy ending - but they've written their own story so far and it wouldn't be too surprising if they did it again this weekend.

Verdict: Knockmore


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