Ballintubber chase the three-in-a-row dream

Man in the middle: James Kilcullen will be a key man in Sunday's battle. Photo:Sportsfile

Man in the middle: James Kilcullen will be a key man in Sunday's battle. Photo:Sportsfile

t’s been 36 years since it was last achieved when Garrymore saw off Knockmore by the smallest of margins on a scoreline of 1-9 to 2-5 to claim a historic three-in-a-row. On Sunday, Ballintubber are looking to become the latest side to enter their name in that ledger in the history books of Mayo football.

On Sunday standing in their way are a Ballaghaderreen side who are looking to claim their third senior title and first since 2008. When they won their last title four years ago, Ballaghaderreen looked like a side who could come to dominate football in Mayo for a number of years, but it’s been the men from west Mayo who have grabbed that mantle and are looking to lay down a further marker as to their dominance on Sunday.

It’s a great pity for both sides and the neutrals who will be in attendance, that they will be both missing one of their marquee forwards, with Andy Moran’s absence from the Ballaghaderreen side something they have got used to since the bank holiday weekend in August, while Cillian O’Connor dislocated his shoulder a few weeks ago against Ballina in the league. But there is still plenty of quality on show in both sides on Sunday to lend themselves to what could be a classic encounter.

Both sides blazed their way through the group stages with Ballintubber putting up 3-41 in their three games against Breaffy, Davitts and Claremorris. While Ballagh’ lodged 5-36 in their credit account in their wins over Tourmakeady, Westport and Ballina. Their games in the last eight were very different affairs, with Ballintubber able to keep the challenge of Castlebar Mitchels at arms length to come through by 0-11 to 0-8 and in the process killing Mitchels’ championship dreams for the third year in a row. While Ballagh’ put Garrymore to the sword running out winners on double scores of 2-18 to 1-9 in a game they dominated from the very first minute when David Drake crashed the ball to the back of the net.

The semi-finals saw Ballintubber show why they are champions by coming from behind to see off the challenge of Crossmolina Deel Rovers thanks to a Jonathan Duffy goal not long after he came off the bench. While Ballaghaderreen came through a bruising encounter with Knockmore by 1-10 to 0-10, with Joe Dillon the man who got the all important goal in McHale Park a fortnight ago.

Key battles all over the field

The east Mayo men will be looking for Barry Regan to lead them once again on Sunday. Regan is a top class footballer in his own right, but with the absence of Andy Moran even more responsibility will fall on his shoulders to deliver the scores that Ballaghaderreen will need to bring the Moclair Cup home on Sunday.

While for Ballintubber their main man in attack will be Alan Dillon. The dependable, classy half forward is the man who pulls the strings for Ballintubber from his berth on the 40. The 2006 All Star will be the go to man for his side as they look to build their attacks.

In the middle of the park a huge battle can be expected with the clash of four real heavyweights of the game in Mayo. For Ballaghaderreen Barry Kelly and James Kilcullen will be the men in the white number eight and nine jerseys. While in the red corner it will be the duo of Danny Geraghty and Jason Gibbons who will be looking to grab control of the middle sector. With both Geraghty and Gibbons seeing action in the county colours during Mayo’s championship run to the All Ireland final they would will be expected to be the dominant midfield duo on Sunday, but Kelly and Kilcullen are also serious operators and it would not be a huge surprise to see them come out on top in this area over the 60 minutes.

The case for the defences

At the back, Ballintubber have been as water tight as you can get over their five games in this year’s championship having not conceded a goal in 300 minutes of action in the championship. The biggest total anyone has managed to score against them over the five games was nine points by Davitts in round two of the group stages, with both Castlebar and Crossmolina only managing to put eight points up against them in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. That just shows the quality that they have at the back through from goalkeeper Brendan Walsh (who has been forced into a number of top class saves during games ) through Cathal Hallinan, their general in the full-back-line, and Tom Early, who marshals the half-back-line. While Ballaghaderreen have been comfortable winners in all their games, they have conceded at least one goal in four of their five games, their semi-final win over Knockmore was the only time their net hasn’t been rattled by an opponent in the championship this year. That is something that the Drake brothers Stephen and David will, along with the Rodgers brothers Keith and Philip, be looking to ensure continues on Sunday.

Ballintubber have earned the right to go into Sunday’s game as favourites, having won the last two titles and they will. But they know that tag will count for very little once the ball is thrown in and the game gets underway at 3.30pm.

Verdict: Ballintubber

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