The hard yards put in on the muddy fields from Belmullet to Shrule over the wild winter and soaking spring will be put to the test this weekend when the first ball is thrown-in in this year’s Mayo club championships. From Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon, across 16 games in the senior and intermediate championships the shape the summer will take for 32 clubs will start to form.
In the senior championship, group one throws-in with the meeting of Davitts and Castlebar Mitchels on Saturday at 7.30pm in Ballindine. Ballindine will be up against it against the county town men and will feel the absence of Michael Conroy from their attack in particular. Castlebar have already run out big winners over Pete Warren’s men in the league at the end of April and it is hard to see anything but a win for Pat Holmes’ men this time out. On Sunday at 2pm, Breaffy will go into their opening round game of the championship as favourites against Crossmolina Deel Rovers. Declan Reilly’s men have picked up three wins out of three so far this season in the league, seeing off Castlebar Mitchels, Ballintubber, and Ballina Stephenites in the process, while Crossmolina have not won a game yet in the league, losing out to Claremorris, Davitts, and Charlestown. Michael Moyles has taken on a big task in overseeing the transition from old Deel Rovers to new, but Sunday should be another tough day at the office against a Breaffy side who are bang on form at the minute. Things get under way in group two on Saturday evening when Claremorris make the trip to Clogher to face Peter Ford’s Ballintubber. Both sides have made good league starts with two wins from two, but it is hard to look past Ballintubber’s championship form over the past three years. Ballintubber are looking for three Moclair Cups in four years, and with Alan Dillon showing his match fitness last Sunday it is a major boost to their forward line ahead of this weekend’s championship opener against what should be a tricky exam from Claremorris.
The other game in the group is the meeting of Ballina Stephenites and Shrule-Glencorrib in James Stephens Park at 2pm on Sunday. Ballina will go into the game as hot favourites, despite their own championship troubles last year. They have picked things up this year and have two wins from three in division 1a in the league, beating Ballinrobe and Ballaghaderreen, while Shrule have a solitary win in division 1b against Ballyhaunis, with both Burrishoole and Garrymore securing wins over them in the opening three rounds.
The meeting of Charlestown and Westport on Saturday in group three at 7.30pm is one of the hardest calls to make over the weekend. Charlestown had a long hard winter getting all the way to the All Ireland intermediate semi-final, and have seen a number of big players hang up their boots, some for a second time. But they have been playing a higher level of football than Westport in the league, picking up one win over Crossmolina from their three games. Westport are now operating out of division 1b, where they have managed to pick up two wins from three, with wins over Kiltimagh and Kilmaine. But they will be worried that in their only league game against a fellow senior side so far they came up short against Aghamore. The other game in the group will see Tourmakeady and Knockmore go head to head at 4pm on Sunday and also head to head for attention with the much hyped meeting of Donegal and Tyrone in the Ulster championship, which throws in at the same time. Both sides met in the league a month ago with Knockmore running out strong winners. The north Mayo men live and breathe championship football and Nigel Reape will have them well keyed up and ready to hit the ground running on Sunday when they hit the west Mayo Gaeltacht, and it is hard to see past a Knockmore win. All the action in group four of the championship will take place on Saturday evening with both games throwing in at 5.30pm. The all south Mayo derby between Garrymore and Ballinrobe is the one to watch in all probability. Garrymore have three wins from three under their belts in division 1b, with wins over Kiltane, Hollymount-Carramore, and Shrule-Glenncorrib in the bank. That is a nice collection of building blocks for Jack Grimes’ side, while Ballinrobe have one win to their name from their last outing against last year’s county champions, Ballaghaderreen, to go with defeats to Ballintubber and Ballina Stephenites in their other two games. This is one contest where playing in a lower division might not be a hindrance as a confident and winning Garrymore side could just edge out a win. Also throwing in on Saturday at 5.30pm is the meeting of Aghamore and Ballaghaderreen in Aghamore. Ballaghaderreen will have been boosted as much as the rest of the county with the return to action last weekend of Andy Moran. If Moran has a full game in him it still has to be seen. Ballaghaderreen will be keen to build on last year’s championship win, but have not got off to the best start in the league picking up only one win from three, while Aghamore have three wins from three in the division below. While Aghamore are arguably in better form, it is still hard to look past the defending champions.
The big push to make the big time
Picking the winner of the intermediate championship is always a tricky task, with a good half a dozen sides at least having the credentials to make the step up. You would be hard pressed to find anyone outside of the other 15 clubs in this year’s intermediate grade, who would begrudge Burrishoole winning this year’s title after losing three straight finals on the bounce. New manager Neil Chambers will be hoping his side can get this year’s campaign off with a win on Sunday afternoon when they travel to take Swinford in a tricky encounter in group two. The other game in that group is the meeting of Killala and Mayo Gaels in north Mayo on Saturday at 7.30pm. Mayo Gaels will be pinning a lot of their hopes on the performances of Adam Gallagher out the field and Paul Mannion in goal, while Killala will be looking for inspiration from the likes of Andrew Farrell.
Group one looks like a real group of death, with Kilmaine, Hollymount-Carramore, and Bonniconlon all believing in their abilities to have run at the title, while the numbers are made up by last year’s junior champions The Neale, who will probably believe they can beat anyone following their dramatic win in last year’s junior final. Kilmaine host The Neale on Sunday at 4pm, this local derby is sure to have plenty of spice, but Kilmaine’s experience should show through in the end. The other game throws in two hours earlier in Hollymount, so taking in both should not be the hardest task. Bonniconlon will head south confident of turning over their opponents, but Hollymount-Carramore have plenty of championship know-how to make sure they keep the points at home.
Sunday afternoon’s meeting of Moy Davitts and Parke in Foxford in group three of the intermediate championship should be a tight affair. Moy Davitts are doing well in division 1b with two wins from three, while Parke have not been doing so well in the division below, with only one win from four. But Parke have been a good championship club over the past few years and will put it up to their hosts. Islandeady will host Belmullet in another very tough to call game in the other game in the group. The north Mayo men are sitting top of division 1c with four wins from four, while Islandeady have picked up two wins from their four games. The form will just give the visitors the edge. The final group is another tough to call melting pot, with Kiltimagh, Ballyhaunis, Achill, and last year’s relegated side Kiltane making up the numbers. The north Mayo men will host Achill on Sunday afternoon and word is that all the stops are being pulled out this year to get this proud north Mayo club back to senior football for next year. They have picked up two wins from three in the league in division 1b and done well in the early-season warm up competitions. Sunday should see them climb the first footsteps back to senior football. The final game in the championship is the meeting of Kiltimagh and Ballyhaunis on Saturday evening. Both sides met in the championship and the league last year, with both contests ending in a draw. The league has not been ideal for either side, with neither of them picking up a win to date in their three games in division 1b. Home advantage might swing it to Kiltimagh’s advantage.