The Mayo League and clubs have been in the headlines of late over off the field issues, but on Sunday all eyes will be where they should on the park as the Mayo League kicks off for the 2012 season across five divisions. The Premier A and B along with division one and two will get proceedings underway on Saturday evening at 6pm, with the main attraction the Super League, kicking off on Sunday at noon with the meeting of Castlebar Celtic and Westport United in Celtic Park, with the action in the other games in the division getting underway at 2.30pm.
Last year’s champions and runners-up will once again go in to the season as the two favorites to be battling it out at the end of the season for the title. While a loss so early in the season may not seem detrimental on paper, with only 14 games in the eight-team league, there's not a lot of time for any side to close a gap at either end of the table.
Westport United have kept themselves busy over the winter break and only a fortnight ago booked their place in the final of the Connacht Cup, which should have their side at full fitness ahead of the start of the season. They are backboned by a number of experienced players who have shown they are more than able to cut it at the top level of junior soccer – the likes of Danny Scahill, Martin Geraghty, Vinny O'Malley, Dave Cameron and Dave Hoban have all been key to the Connacht Cup run and will be over the course of the season. Joint managers Kieran Mulchrone and James Fahy will be hoping their experienced players will still continue to shine and help out newer players they will be looking to bring through.
As for Celtic, they kicked off the season last weekend with the now annual Charity Shield game between the league and cup winners from the previous season. But for Celtic it wasn't the winning start they would have hoped for with last year’s cup winners Iorras Aontaithe coming out victorious 5-4 on penalties. But Declan Kilkelly won't be too disheartened after the defeat and his side will start the season as favorites. Last weekend Celtic were backboned by the likes of Andy Neary, Dec Flynn, Sean McHale, Ollie Cunningham who will all be needed to hold off the chasing pack over the course of the season. Others new players like Tommy O'Reilly, Ryan Helly and Niall McNicholas will also add something different to the mix this season.
As for last weekend’s victors Iorras Aontaithe, they will be hoping to get off to a much better start this year than last season where they only managed to pick up three points from the first potential 12, leaving them out of the running for the title from early doors. They did get it together to finish very strongly and claim the cup, but joint managers Brendan Nallen and David Reilly will be looking to get points on the board from the off this season. On Sunday they will welcome Mossy Lally's Manulla to Carnenash, Lally has come back on board as Manulla manager this season and he will face a tough task of making sure his side stay out of the relegation battle as they try to reestablish themselves as one of the top sides in the league.
Ballina Town who put back-to-back titles together before Celtic took the crown last season will be under the guidance of Fergal Forde this year. Ballina by all accounts have been hit hard by emigration and lack of work opportunities with a number of players having to leave. Forde will have a tough job of getting the experienced players he has left and and the younger ones to blend together, but there is still plenty of quality players there for him to work with. They will open the season when Premier Division runners-up Straide and Foxford come to town. S & F have been an up and down yo-yo club over the past couple of years and will have their work cut out staying up this season.
Last year’s Premier Division Champions Fahy Rovers are probably better equipped to have a real stab at staying up this term, but they will have a very tricky opening encounter when they travel to Claremorris to take on Michael Hutton's side, which only came up last year and managed to not only survive but finish in third place. More of the same will be expected from Claremorris this season.