The Premiership may be back on Saturday, but for the discerning Mayo soccer supporter there is only one place to be and that is in Belleek at 6.30pm. With three games to go and the title run-in on a knife edge, league leaders Westport United will be making the journey north to face the defending champions Ballina Town, who are breathing down their necks in the title run-in. Westport United stand two points ahead of Ballina after 15 games each; a win for the defending champions would put them back on top of the table ahead of their final two games.
Sunday’s clash is just the first in a number of games that could bring huge success to Ballina Town, and manager Brendan Kenny is ready for a hectic few weeks. “It’s just getting tougher and tougher to win this league and that’s down to the sides who are chasing the title, ourselves, Westport United, and Iorras Aontaithe; no disrespect to the rest of the league. It looks like it’s going to take more points than ever to win it this year, we’re still in there with a great shout with three games to go, if you gave us that at the start of the year we’d have taken it.”
Apart from the challenge of trying to overtake Westport United on Sunday at the top of the table, the following week will bring another brace of tough challenges. “We’ve got Westport on Sunday, then Tuesday night we’re in the Connacht Senior Cup final in Celtic Park, and to follow that up we’ve to go away to Carnenash and face Iorras Aontaithe in the league at the weekend. It’s a cup final every day these final few weeks of the season. Last week we played Castlebar Celtic on the Thursday night and then had Ballyheane away on the Sunday, there’s been no rest for the last while.” With a hectic schedule of games to fit in keeping everyone in top playing condition is a challenge Ballina have had to face this year. “Well, we haven’t had our full squad to pick from all season, but that’s the nature of the game and why you have a squad to bring in and out players as you need them. A number of young lads have stepped up this year when called on, like John Mountney and David Gorman, and they’ve done great jobs when called upon.”
When the sides met earlier in the season they played out a scoreless draw in a rain-soaked Sports Park in the middle of May and a win for either side could prove decisive in the battle for the title.
Iorras, who are only a point behind second-placed Ballina, kept up the heat on the top two last weekend with a 6-0 win over Straide and Foxford United last weekend, thanks to goals from Brendan Nallen (2 ), Seán Gaughan, Pat Barrett, Michael Togher, and an own goal. This weekend they make the trip to Castlebar to take on Fahy Rovers. A win on Saturday evening would leave their meeting with Ballina Town the following week at home a mouthwatering encounter. With only 270 minutes of football to go in the league season, everyone from fourth placed Manulla down are still in with a chance of finishing up the season in the relegation zone. While it is still possible for Manulla and fifth placed Swinford to make the drop, both sides look safe. The real battle around the drop zone will have Castlebar Celtic, Fahy Rovers, and Ballyheane all fighting it out for the last safety spot. This weekend, while Fahy Rovers will be in for a tough time against Iorras Aontaithe, Ballyheane, and Castlebar Celtic will square off in Celtic Park. A win for either of the visitors would see them pull within a point of their hosts. The other games sees a condemned Snugboro United host Swinford in Conway Park, while Straide and Foxford United, who look dead certs to go down also, will host Swinford.
Highs and lows in the Premier Division
In the Premier Division, with four rounds of games to go, Claremorris are eight points clear of second placed Ballinrobe Town and odds on to claim the title to go with promotion to the Super League for next season. While all sides from fourth placed Bangor Hibs down to Kilmore in eighth place can still catch Ballinrobe, it looks unlikely. The more likely outcome will be that everyone from Bangor Hibs down to last placed Crossmolina will be in battle to avoid the drop, as only three points separate seven sides from top to bottom. An exciting run-in at the bottom of the table is in store for everyone in the Premier Division.
Charlestown became the first team to seal promotion this year, when they beat Straide and Foxford United 3-0 last weekend, to keep up their 100 per cent record in the league this season.
Final four for Connacht Gold cup
The final four in the Connacht Gold cup became known last weekend with Snugboro United putting their poor league form behind them to see off Glenhest Rovers 3-2. Partry Athletic needed a penalty shoot-out to beat Ballinrobe Town after the sides finished 2-2. Fahy Rovers dismissed the challenge of Claremorris B, while Straide and Foxford United saw off Ballyglass with ease 2-0. The draw for the semi-final will take place on MWR next Thursday night, August 19 between 9pm and 10pm.