The bookmakers have it that it will be a clash of north against south for the Moclair cup come next month, and while that may be where the money is going, it would be a foolish man who is counting out the chances of the men from the west ahead of Sunday.
While Knockmore have recent tradition and staying power at the top of the game on their side and Shrule Glencorrib established themselves as a real top table side during the middle part of the last decade, both their opponents have been building up to this for a long time. Castlebar Mitchels, apart from the Stephenites from 25 miles north of McHale Park, have won this competition more than anyone else, 27 times in total. Their last win coming in 1993, before the wheels came off the wagon during the last decade and a dip into intermediate football knocked the club back a bit. But fittingly as the county town side celebrate a century and a quarter of football this year, they are back on the big stage once again.
Ballintubber have never reached the heights of their illustrious neighbours in the road, they have been one of the most successful football nurseries in the county which continues to this date. It was Castlebar who denied them a third u21 championship in a row last weekend, but their minor stars who looked like they might not have numbers to field a team this year claimed the west Mayo minor A title in late summer.
The Mitchels will be the first of the western sides up on Sunday looking to upset the applecart when they throw in against Knockmore in McHale Park at 2pm. Knockmore pushed Charlestown all the way last year in the final, and only for the fact they were hindered by a number of key injuries they could be the defending champions. Nigel Reape has a full deck to deal from this time around and there is experience and adaptability in abundance in their ranks. It may be nearly two decades since Kevin O’Neill claimed his All Star, but he still has what it takes at club level and has bagged a fine tally of 20 points in championship action this year. Declan and Stephen Sweeney at centre half back and midfield respectively, provide power and experience which will be needed. In their full back line John Brogan has been one of the most consistent defenders for the past few years in Mayo club football, and while Shane McHale is still learning his trade his displays with intercounty underage teams shows bundles of potential. Up front Aidan Kilcoyne will be expected to provide the drive and speed along side O’Neill, while his fellow senior inter county team mates, Trevor Howley and Kevin McLoughlin, could feature in either defence or attack for the north Mayo men which gives Knockmore a number of options.
As for the county town men, they are coming into the game fresh from claiming the county u21 A title last weekend. On paper Peter Ford has put together a side that will have no fear of Knockmore and have the ability to beat them. Barry Moran, Neil Douglas, and Aidan Walsh will ask serious questions of the Knockmore rearguard, Moran has half a decade of intercounty experience under his belt at this stage, while Douglas and Walsh are two of the more exciting underage attacking talents of late to come out of the county. In midfield it is a real blend of youth and experience with Shane Fitzmaurice and Danny Kirby likely to pair up. Kirby in the past two years as a minor has shown the potential to be a serious player while Fitzmaurice is an old hand in the white heat of action at this stage. Former All Ireland club winner with St Vincent’s, Pat Kelly, will anchor the defence. The Kilmaine native has become an indispensable cog in the Mitchels rearguard since he came back west. The full back line of the Feeney brothers Alan and Richie alongside the ever improving Eoghan O’Reilly will be looking forward to testing their mettle against the best Knockmore can offer. Knockmore will carry the favourites’ tag going into the game
The second game of the afternoon pits two former All Star winners and team mates against each other on the sideline. James Horan and Kenneth Mortimer both soldiered together in the green and red of Mayo in the nineties and the early part of this century. On Sunday they will be in charge of their home clubs, both of which are in search of their first senior championship title. The draw will have suited both sides who will more than fancy their chances of seeing off the other. Ballintubber have been building up to this title challenge for the last few years, last season the only side to defeat them was Knockmore in the championship, and they have come back again this year hungrier and stronger. Ballintubber will be looking to Alan Dillon to lead the line for them in attack and he will be key to deciding the outcome of this game. Dillon, who was handled very well by Ger Cafferkey in the quarter final, is the man who makes the team tick. Cillian O’Connor in the full forward line has the ability to score and torment any defence in the county despite his youth. In midfield the Ballintubber pairing of Jason Gibbons and Danny Geraghty had a poor day at the office last weekend and will have to up their game come Sunday. Shrule Glencorrib made the final once before in 2005, and were only denied at the death by Crossmolina who saw them off in a replay. They have done better than most expected in reaching the last eight, before their quarter final not many people, bar the faithful, would have seen anything but a Charlestown win, but Shrule Glencorrib put on the performance of the last eight to knock out the county champions. They will also welcome back into their attacking six Mark Ronaldson, who was suspended in the last round. Throw Ronaldson in with Conor Mortimer who excelled against Charlestown and Trevor Mortimer and Ballintubber will have their work cut out at the back. Shrule Glencorrib may be the favourites with the bookies, but if the men from west Mayo came out on top it would not be a big surprise.