While the post-mortem on Mayo’s inglorious exit from the Connacht championship went on over the week and will go into the future, it’s back to basics this weekend for the inter county football panel when they rejoin their club mates for the first round proper of action in the Royal Theatre senior and intermediate championships.
Section three of the senior championship, which has five teams in it, got under way a few weeks ago with Charlestown seeing off West Mayo and Westport coming home from Kiltaine with the points. This weekend Westport will host Breaffy on Sunday at 4pm in what could be one of the crucial ties of the group. Westport are on a high, having claimed the intermediate crown last year they have put in some good league performances to leave them not too far off the top sides. Going to Kiltaine was never going to be an easy ride for them, but they passed their first senior championship challenge thanks to a good showing.
With the likes of Lee Keegan, Kevin Keane, and Damien Keane they have a core of good quality young footballers who won’t fear any side. Breaffy had a annus horribilis last year, but have begun to put the pieces back together this season so far. Their league form has been good in general despite one nightmare showing against Kiltimagh, but they have a number of talented players with both Aidan and Seamus O’Shea driving the side forward and Alan Durcan posing a serious scoring threat, they won’t fear Westport.
In the other game in the group, West Mayo will host Kiltaine in Islandeady. When West Mayo were entered in the competition it looked to most that they would be the whipping boys of the senior championship, but they showed a lot of heart and fight in their opening round game against Charlestown. They even led the defending champions at the turnaround before a lack of firepower saw them being overhauled. Kiltaine have to look for a big performance on Saturday evening if they are to have any real shot of making the knock out stages of the competition, and their greater championship experience with the likes of Mikey Sweeney and Shane Lindsey in the side should be enough for them.
In section one of the competition, John Maughan’s new look Crossmolina side have been flying in the league this season winning all their five games in the league so far. But Ballintubber are the coming team of the last couple of years and won’t fear the Deel Rovers men. James Horan’s men have only lost once so far this year, but if Alan Dillon’s injury that kept him out of Mayo’s game against Sligo has not cleared up it will be a huge blow to their chances. Garrymore is probably the place to be on Saturday evening when Claremorris come to town in section one. Two years ago Claremorris looked like a team who were going to make serious inroads in the senior championship, but they appear to have fallen back a long way. Having only won once in the league so far this season, things have not got off to the best of starts. Garrymore, who themselves have been hanging on in the senior championship for the past number of years, seem to have things moving in the right direction now thanks to a fresh batch of quality players like Caolan Crow, Shane Nally, Enda Varley, and Jimmy Killeen all top quality men to have in the side.
In section two on Sunday afternoon at 2pm, Castlebar Mitchels will begin their quest to claim the Moclair Cup in their 125th anniversary season against Shrule Glencorrib. Peter Ford’s men have all the raw potential to be championship winners, but big question marks still remain about them when it comes to the crunch. Having Tom Cunniffe back in action will be a big boost, while the likes of Barry Moran, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Eoin O’Reilly, and Pat Kelly are all top quality players who have the ability to beat any side. Both sides met last year in the quarter finals with Mitchels coming out on top after a replay, Shrule Glencorrib looked a tired team at that stage of the competition, but any side which has both Mark Ronaldson and Conor Mortimer in its attacking options cannot be taken lightly in club football. Kenneth Mortimer has taken charge of the side and has had a good start to the league with only one loss recorded against him so far.
The final group in the competition is the annual group of death with Ballinrobe, Ballaghaderreen, Knockmore, and Ballina all looking for one of the two places in the last eight of the competition. The action starts on Saturday evening in Charlestown where Ballaghaderreen will take on Ballinrobe, and on paper it looks like there will be only one winner. Ballaghaderreen will be seriously looking to reclaim the crown they lost last year and Norman O’Brien’s charges who have not been in great form for the past month or look to be the perfect prey for the likes of Andy Moran, Barry Kelly, and Barry Regan. On Sunday all roads lead to Knockmore, where Ballina will be making the short journey out from town to take on the country cousins. It’s one of those games which is a real 50-50 affair, Knockmore though could be missing both Aidan Kilcoyne and Trevor Howley who missed last weekend’s Mayo game, they will probably still be out which will be a big blow. John Healy has taken charge of Ballina this season and the former All Ireland club championship winning goalkeeper will be looking to getting the club back to winning ways. It will be tough and no side will give the other an inch, some might say the championship starts here.
Burrishoole favourites to lift intermediate title
At the start of most intermediate championships it’s a real pot luck effort to predict which side will come out on top and join the senior ranks for the next year. This season though something different seems to be brewing in the air, with Colm McManamon’s Burrishoole looking to be the team to beat for everybody else. This weekend they will host Ballyhaunis in McGovern Park and will be hot favourites to come out with the win. Belmullet, who won the Comórtas competition last weekend, are one of the sides that people will look to outside of Burrishoole to make a charge for the title. On Sunday they will face a tough examination from a Kiltimagh in group one side who won last year’s junior title and went all the way to the All Ireland final. If celebrations from the Comórtas dragged on into the week it could be a tough afternoon for the Erris men. The other sides in group one will meet each other in Bonniconlon on Sunday when Mayo Gaels make the trip up north. When both sides met in the league it was Bonni’ who won out by seven points, but Mayo Gaels are one of those sticky championship sides that always seem to do better than they should. In group two Hollymount will entertain Cill Chomáin in ‘The Saucer’, Hollymount are flying in the league with five league wins to their name, and will be hoping to carry that form through to the championship, but Cill Chomáin are no mugs and will not fear the south Mayo men. They have four wins to their name in the league themselves and will give all they have on Sunday evening. In the other game in that group last year’s beaten finalists Tourmakeady will host Crossmolina B, the north Mayo men will really enter the lion’s den on Saturday evening, where Jack Grimes’ men will be looking to bounce back from last year’s final defeat. They will hit hard everything that moves and have enough class up front to keep the points in the Gaeltacht. Swinford will make the trip west to Kilmeena on Sunday afternoon, neither side has excelled this year in the league and they don’t have the look of real championship challengers. Swinford also have to cope with the loss of David Heaney who has gone on to pastures new in Galway. In the first game of the weekend in section four it’s hard to look at anything but a Kilmaine win, they will have to make the long trip to Achill, but with the islanders having not picked up a single win in the league so far this year the south Mayo should pick up the points. In the final game of the intermediate championship, Davitts will bring their slick brand of football to Killala on Saturday evening. While Davitts’ league form has not been great this year, they are playing two divisions above their hosts who have struggled this year in the league. Killala will be tough and ready for the challenge, but Davitts should have enough to win out.