While the fallout from Mayo’s Connacht Championship opener against London has been the talk of newspaper pages, online discussions, and bar stools across the county for the past fortnight, the real beating heart of Gaelic football in the county is about to be unleashed this weekend. The long hard slog since the turn of the year, through wet, muddy, fields, gym and weight circuits, for the humble club player is about to come to fruition this weekend when Treanlaur Catering Mayo Senior and Intermediate football championship gets under way.
While the inter-county team takes the headlines and the column inches most weeks of the year, this weekend is where the club player comes to the fore. Each of the 32 clubs across the two championships is starting off on an even keel with dreams of glory in late autumn still very much intact at this moment, from the 16-year-old hope for the future to the grizzled veteran who has probably seen one too many tough battles in places like Kiltaine, Garrymore, Burrishoole, Shrule and Achill, and should be enjoying a retirement, but was convinced to come back for one more year all ready to lay it on the line for the club, his club. Where he first learned how to pick up a ball, execute a handpass and the pride of playing for his own, his friends, his family, his people.
Ballintubber may be shorn this summer of the guiding hand which brought them to the promised land of the Moclair Cup last season, but they will be intent on defending the title they won last year with all their worth. They will open up that defence away to Westport on Saturday evening, going on league form alone it is going to be a tough one for Westport to knock the champions off course early on in their title defence. Garrymore will host Crossmolina in the second game in group one at the same time. John Maughan’s Crossmolina have been finding the going tough so far this season in the league, having not won a single game so far. While Garrymore, albeit operating in a division below, having been moving very well, with Enda Varley in good form and Jimmy Killeen deadly from placed balls, it could be a very long evening for the Deel Rovers men. But then, there is a certain All Star back in situ for Crossmolina who has nothing to prove and all the ability to be the decisive force in any game at this level.
The pretenders from Breaffy have been knocking at the door to be a serious senior championship side for the past couple of years. They will be looking to build on last year when they reached the quarter final only to collapse against Castlebar Mitchels in the first half. On Sunday they will open their group two account away to Ballinrobe. Norman O’Brien’s side have been far from impressive this year so far, and for the past couple of years have been involved in the group of death come championship time. Ballinrobe will be hoping that home advantage will help them, but they will be up against it against the west Mayo men. It will be a tough battle in Bangor Erris on Sunday when Kiltaine and Knockmore collide in the second game in group two. On paper there is only one winner, Knockmore have serious designs on claiming the Moclair Cup this year and are undefeated in the league so far this season. But nobody comes out of Kiltaine easy and the men from Erris will make it a difficult afternoon. The meeting of Charlestown and Ballaghaderreen on Sunday afternoon has the makings of the game of the day about it. Ballagh slipped down the pecking order following their county title win in 2008, but under Kieran Gallagher they have returned to form this year and should be taken as serious contenders. Charlestown have lost a number of experienced players since their last campaign and that could be crucial come crunch time. It has been all change for the Mitchels since last year’s defeat in the county final. Out has gone Peter Ford, in has come Pat Holmes, to steer the ship. Mitchels have lost a number of players to summers in America, along with Pat Kelly and Darragh Sloyan all departing home pastures. But there is still plenty of quality in the county town set up. Aghamore have the tough task of stopping them on Sunday and despite home advantage it is hard seeing anything other than a Mitchels’ win. The final group throws in on Saturday evening when Tourmakeady will make the trip to Claremorris. Last year’s intermediate champions are nothing if not a tough side to break down for any team, and in Kevin Dolan (if fit ) have a proven scorer. Claremorris are a side who have seen a good few changes over the past couple of years since they made the semi-final of the competition, and have failed to deliver in the championship since. Saturday’s game promises to be an interesting encounter with the outcome finally balanced on a knife edge. The final game in the last group sees Shrule Glencorrib heading to Crossmolina to take on Ballina Stephenites. Home advantage has been ceded by the Stephenites as their pitch is done up. Both sides have a number of key players out due to injury and emigration making things tough for both John Healy and Ger Butler when they sit down to pick their teams. But Ballina’s injury list looks the worst of the two, swinging the advantage to the men from the southern border.