At the start of every season winning the title is the ultimate goal for most sides, but in this years Elvery’s Sports Super League avoiding the drop is a big a concern for a lot of teams. This year will see four sides dropping out of the top division before it becomes a more compact and competitive eight team league for the 2011 campaign. Last year only one team (Kilmore ) dropped out of the top flight with Swinford replacing them this season, after Westport United B won the Premier Division title but were not allowed to come up. But this year if you finish between 10th and seventh place in the league and you are dropping through the trap door.
If the four to go down rule was in place last season, Castlebar Celtic, Fahy Rovers, Straide, and Foxford United would all be in the Premier Division with Ballyheane and Snugboro United just holding on by the skin of their teeth. This season the candidates for the drop early on do not look a lot different. Swinford are back in the top flight after a couple of seasons in the lower league, and new manager Alan Gough is going to have a very big task on his hands to keep the east Mayo side in the top flight. Getting off to a good start would be half the battle, but on Sunday they were handed the toughest of opening tests, hosting the current champions Ballina Town. Castlebar Celtic just clung on to their top division status last season, and while they may be one of the marquee names of domestic soccer in the county, new manager Paul Large is dealing with a uneven deck. All Celtic’s top players will be involved in the Newstalk A League, so their Super League team are in reality the B team, and while there is a good pool of underage talent to pick from, it is going to be a large task for the new man to keep them out of the relegation dog fight. This weekend they have got to make the short hop to the Sportspark to take on old foes Westport United in a tasty season opener.
Westport also have a new man at the helm this season with Barry Kilgannon taking over from Pádraig Burns, and he has some big shoes to fill. The new man though will have one of the most accomplished squads in the county to pick from, and after seeing Ballina pip them to the title last season they are going to be going all out to make sure that they get back to the top of the pile in Mayo.
Manulla started off their season already going down 2-1 to Ballina Town in the Charity Shield last weekend. After a strong showing last term saw them finish fourth and not too far behind the Iorras Aontaithe and Westport United, Damien Ansbro will be looking for further progression this season and a sustained title challenge. Ballyheane have never been real title contenders and have always had too much to avoid the relegation quagmire, bar one last-day-of-the-season escape a few years ago. But this year it is going to be a tough ask for the Quigley Park side to stay out of the basement battle. Their notorious unpredictability has always cost them and this season it could see them struggle to stay up.
Fahy Rovers is another side which will be looking to get off to a good start to avoid the drop, this is their second year in top flight, and John Creaby has taken the reins to try to steer them to a top six finish. Fahy were a very tough side to break down last season and they will need to ensure that it stays like that this term if they are to stay up. Mick Wallace has returned to Conway Park this season. The former Snugboro United shot stopper is now the man calling the shots from the sideline, but his task did get a little harder with both Stevie Gavin and Niall Gallagher heading for pastures new this season. Their experience would have been vital when things got tough, but Wallace will have his side well keyed up to scrap it out.
Straide and Foxford United still have not seen last season stop for them, on Sunday they are in Connacht Cup action against Galway Hibs. Last season they managed to take points from more than half of their games and Aidan Flatley will be looking for something similar this season. The long winter of football will either see them ticking over nicely into the new season or it could cause problems late on if fatigue kicks in.
Last but by no means least, last year’s champions Ballina Town, Brendan Kenny finally guided the north Mayo men to the title and there is a bull’s eye on their backs from every side. But the vast majority of last year’s squad is still available and they will not want to let last year be a one off. They already have the Charity Shield in the bag from last weekend and they will not want it to be the last trophy for the year.