New season, new faces, new challengers?

April showers and summer soccer have been familiar friends over the past two decades in Mayo since the Mayo League introduced summer soccer for the junior sides in the league. This weekend will see the 20th instalment of summer football kicking off across the now five divisions from Super League down to League Two. The top division features the names you would expect with Westport United once again leading the pack as defending champions, with Castlebar Celtic, Ballina Town, Iorras Aontaithe, Manulla, and Claremorris all chasing after them like last season. Making the step up from the Premier A from last year are champions Ballyheane and runners up Snugboro United. Both sides have had plenty of experience in the top division over recent years, but will be severely put to the pin of their collars this season to remain in the top division. But with two other sides in the division which can be considered local derbies, there are plenty of games where form can be put aside for a while.

The Super League kicks begins on Saturday evening with six sides in action in the 6.30pm kick offs (Westport United are in Connacht Cup action, so their game with Ballyheane will be played at a later date ). Castlebar Celtic, who look once again to be the obvious challengers to Westport United's title, got their new season off to a winning start last Sunday picking up the Liam McEntee Charity Shield, and will make the trip to Belleek to take on Ballina Town in the game of the evening. Both sides have won the title in recent years and finished second and third respectively in last year’s standings. Ballina Town look to have a very testing year ahead as they deal with the loss of star front men Michael Duffy and Brendan Lavelle who have moved on, and manager Fergal Forde will be hoping that his side can find the huge number of goals that both Duffy and Lavelle brought to the side over the past number of years. Celtic will be looking for their conveyor belt of talent from their underage set up to continue rolling this year as they try to challenge Westport United for the title. Declan Kilkelly's men finished 12 points behind United last season and a win on Saturday will be essential if they are going to mount a challenge this year, as the 14 game season leaves little room for slip ups, as Celtic found last year losing only three games and finishing that far behind the champions.

In Carramore, Manulla will host Iorras Aontaithe in a battle of the sides that finished fifth and sixth last term. Both sides finished well clear of the bottom two in the table, but were also well out of contention at the top, and will be looking to push towards a top four finish hopefully this season. Manulla have lost the services of experienced striker Dessie Campbell who has thrown his lot in with Castlebar Celtic this season, but will hope to bring through a few underage players to freshen up their ranks. Iorras Aontaithe are the only side outside of the big three of Westport United, Castlebar Celtic, and Ballina Town, to win the Super League since the division came into existence, and have always been capable of mixing it with the best especially at home in Carnenash, and Michael S Togher’s men will be looking to improve on the five wins they picked up last season. The final game of the weekend in the Super League sees Claremorris host promoted Snugboro United. The south Mayo side will be under the guidance of a new manager in the guise of Kevin Ring this year after Michael Hutton stepped down following a very successful spell in charge of the side over the past number of years. The Concannon Park outfit have seen a number of players moving in and out over the winter and could be in for a tough year ahead. Snugboro United finished just one point behind Ballyheane in last year’s Premier A table to book their place in the Super League, and will be hoping that they can hang in there this year and not be stuck in a relegation battle. A win in Claremorris on Saturday evening would set things up for challenges that lie ahead.

Connacht senior league back on the agenda

While the Mayo League is back in action this weekend, there could be a big shake up for soccer in Mayo with the Connacht Senior League potentially rising from the ashes. The Connacht Football Association gave its blessing for the setting up of the league again in March, and works have been afoot ever since to gauge the interest of clubs around the province. A meeting has been scheduled for next Monday among interested clubs to see about setting up the league, with Castlebar Celtic, Ballina Town, and Westport United invited to attend. Castlebar Celtic have shown in the recent past an appetite to push on from junior soccer having entered teams in the League of Ireland A League.

United in semi-final showdown

Westport United will have two feet firmly still planted in winter soccer this Sunday when they host Mervue United in the last four of the competition. United were very impressive once again in their quarter final win over City United, but will be expecting a further step up in quality from the Galway outfit on Sunday. United warmed up for Sunday’s game with last week’s Mayo League Charity Shield against Castlebar Celtic when they rested 10 players from their nominal starting 11 as they got ready for Sunday’s game which kicks off at 2pm and is one that every soccer fan in the county should try and to along to attend.

Celtic starlets looking for youth cup final spot

Castlebar Celtic’s u18s will be making a long trip south this weekend as they look to book a place in the FAI Youth Cup final. Celtic will face Cork side, Castlebridge Celtic, in Carraig Park, Fermoy, with kick off at 2.30pm on Saturday. Celtic won the competition in 2007 in Milebush Park and a win on Saturday would see them face either Enderry Town or Castleview in the final.


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