It's Christmas week for football fans this weekend with the start of the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship.
At this stage it is still all to play for for the sixteen sides in the competition and wins this weekend can really set a number of teams up for an assault on the title later this year. We preview all eight games in the championship this weekend.
The Neale v Westport
Saturday, September 3 at 4pm in Cong
Will this be the year that Westport deliver on all their potential? Martin Connelly and Shane Conway have not been playing from a full deck during the league, with a number of players away during the summer. They still did reach the league quarter-finals where they were beaten by Garrymore a few weeks ago. If they can reintegrate their returning players they can get their championship off to a winning start and set themselves up for a real crack at the title again. For the hosts, the loss of Tommy Conroy is a huge hole for them to fill when it comes to getting scores on the board. The Neale finished up in fourth place in division 2A in the league with three wins from seven games and this will be a tough championship opener for them.
Ballintubber v Mayo Gaels
Sunday, September 4 at 2pm in Clogher
Ballintubber will be looking to ensure that they don't get caught out by the intermediate champions coming up with a bounce when Mayo Gaels come to Clogher on Sunday. The league didn't go to plan for Enda Gilvarry's side, but when it came to the crunch they were able to hold on to their division one status with a win over Lousiburgh a few weeks ago. With Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor back in harness along with the likes of Jason Gibbons and Bryan Walsh, they will still be a tough nut to crack for any side in the championship. The visitors had a solid league campaign in division one where they got a taste of what they will be facing in the championship, but were beaten by seven by Ballintubber in that competition; however, they still finished ahead of them in the standings. Jack Fallon, Ethan Henry and Ruari Keane and the Gallaghers, Adam and John will be looking to show they can cut it at the top level but the Tubber could be a step too far at this stage.
Ballaghaderreen v Ballina
Saturday, September 3 at 6pm in Ballagh'
Both of these sides had disappointing ends to their league campaigns, albeit at different ends of the table. Ballina Stephenites will feel that they left their league semi-final against Knockmore behind them in a game they failed to convert chances that they created. Ballaghaderreen at the other end blew a big lead against Kiltimagh in the relegation play-off to end up getting relegated to division two for next year. With defending champions Knockmore in this group and a sticky Aghamore side the other team in this group, a win is vital for both sides in this one to get themselves up and running. Ballagh' have welcomed back the likes of Cian Hanley, David Drake, Seamus Cunniffe and Andy Moran in recent weeks to bulk up their options. Ballina will be expected to welcome back Evan Regan after a summer abroad working, while they have lost Ciaran Tracey from their league side. But with the likes of Frank Irwin, Padraig O'Hora, David Clarke, James Doherty and Sam Callinan they are well stocked to have a real go at the title this year.
Verdict: Ballina Stephenites
Knockmore v Aghamore
Sunday, September 4 at 2pm in Knockmore
The defending champions are going for a first ever three-in-a-row of titles for the Parish of the Backs. They lost out to Castlebar Mitchels in the division one league final a few weeks ago after extra time, but they will take good heart from the way they turned the game around in the second half to force extra time in that one. Kevin McLoughlin, Shane McHale Peter Naughton, Aiden Orme, Connell Dempsey and Darren McHale will all be key men for Ray Dempsey's side and they have bags of experience of winning big games at this stage from the past few years. The visitors had a good league, getting to the quarter-final where they were beaten by Castlebar Mitchels - the likes of Darren Duffy, Enda Sweeney, Conor Kilkenny, David Kenny and Fergal Boland will all need to be key men for the east Mayo side if they are to have a chance of upsetting the odds in this one.
Claremorris v Breaffy
Sunday, September 4 at 2pm in Claremorris
This is a game where both sides will be looking to answer plenty of questions about themselves. Can Breaffy bounce back for another crack at that elusive senior title? And can Claremorris put together a run and draw on all the promise they have shown at underage levels in the recent past? The visitors will be looking to reintegrate their Mayo senior men - Aidan O'Shea, Matthew Ruane and Rob Hennelly - who have yet to feature for them in competitive action this year. Claremorris will be hoping that James Shaugnessy can keep putting the ball over the bar and for some others to help him out and ease the burden on him. The likes of James McCormack, Conor Diskin and James Stretton will need to be on top for for the hosts, while Breaffy will be hoping that Conor O'Shea, Robbie Fadden, Davitt Neary and James Minogue will have big influences on the game.
Balla v Belmullet
Sunday, September 4 at 4pm in Balla
After going so close last year against the odds, nobody will be taking Belmullet lightly this year in the senior championship and they will be making the long trip to Balla on Sunday afternoon. While Belmullet were the story of last year's championship, they have lost a few familiar faces and have new management with Liam McHale over them this year. If Ryan O'Donoghue is fully fit and able to recapture his form of last year where he was the main man not only for his side, but the whole championship, they should be in good stead with the likes of Owen Healy, James Kelly, Ronan Murray and Fionan Ryan all leaders in their own right. Balla will not be found wanting - they were in a very tough group last year after coming up from intermediate and bar a blip against Westport, looked right at home. A second year in senior coming off the back of a decent league run will have them in good stead ahead of this one and in Conor Walsh, Gary McHale and Barry Duffy, they have big players who can have a big say.
Garrymore v Davitts
Saturday, September 3 at 6pm in Garrymore
This is the place to be on Saturday evening for an all-south-Mayo derby where nothing will be left on the sidelines. Garrymore had an impressive championship run last year and went to the semi-final of the league this year where they were beaten only by a late surge from Castlebar Mitchels. The hosts have added Galway influence this year with Kieran Fitzgerald part of their management team and Kieran McGrath on the field alongside the likes of Trevor Nally, Darren Quinn, Caolan Crown and Shane Nally. Davitts will be very pleased with how the year has gone for them so far after they claimed the division two league title a few weeks back and with the likes of Niall Tracey, Evan Ronan, Fenton Kelly and Jack Ronyane all key men alongside the experience from the likes of Colm Boyle and Ronan McNamara, they will be well set for this battle. It should be a tight encounter and home advantage might just swing it.
Castlebar Mitchels v Charlestown
Sunday, September 4 at 2pm in Castlebar
After a couple of years away from the top of the tree Castlebar Mitchels will be relishing having a serious crack at reclaiming the Moclair Cup. Barry Moran and Niall Lydon are the men on the line for them this year and they have already won the division one league title. The county town men have a solid mix of experience and youth throughout their team with the likes of Rory Byrne, Ger McDonagh and Neil Douglas still key - while Paddy Durcan is the main man for them. They'll be hoping that James Durcan's injury isn't too serious - after he had to limp out of the league final - but with the likes of Paddy Heneghan, Mark Cunningham, Paul Walsh and Sean Morahan, they have plenty of top class youth. Charlestown have been steady this year if not spectacular, but that is all about championship for them. Paul Towey was shooting the lights out in the US this summer and if he can replicate that, they will have a serious punch up front. Also with Jack Mahon, Paddy Goldbrick, Matthew Lenaghan and Gar O'Donnell, they have lots of quality of their own - but the hosts are that bit ahead you would feel.
Verdict: Castlebar Mitchels