It is a battle of north and south on Sunday afternoon in MacHale Park when Kiltane and Kilmaine go into battle for the Egan Jewellers Mayo GAA intermediate football championship at 3.30pm.
The south Mayo men are looking for their first intermediate title since 1985, while Kiltane have not been in this grade since the 1970s. But after relegation from senior ranks last year, they have battened down the hatches and gone hell for leather to win their way back to senior status at the first attempt.
Kiltane manager Martin Barrett will be hoping that his side don’t choke on the big day after putting in a number of impressive displays this year. His forward unit containing the likes of Mikey Sweeney, Ultan Corrigan, Sean Carey, and the newly decorated All Ireland minor winner Tommy Conroy, would trouble any defence in the county on their day as they pack a powerful punch. Former Mayo man and All Ireland senior club winner with St Vincent’s Pat Kelly and Derek O’Dea will have to be on their toes to snuff out the threat of the men from Bangor Erris.
In the middle of the park, Kiltane’s John Reilly and Jason Healy will go toe to toe with the Kilmaine duo of Frank Burke and Conor Maloney. This sector will be a key battle in determining the outcome of the contest, and neither side will want to cede an inch.
The Kilmaine attack is not lacking its own threat and guile, with Brian Maloney and Cathal Murphy capable of doing plenty of damage. Darragh Doherty, an All Ireland minor winner last Sunday and goal scorer along with Conroy, posing a serious threat to Michael John Reilly’s Kiltane goal, Stephen Gallagher and his fellow defenders, will have to be tuned in from the start to shut down the men in green and red. Kiltane of course have also been boosted by the return to club colours of Tony Gaughan who rejoined the squad after London exited the All Ireland senior championship. Gaughan’s experience in wins over Leitrim and Sligo and the Connacht final against Mayo will surely come in handy when things go down to the wire, as many expect it will do this Sunday in McHale Park.
Winning all the way to the final
Kilmaine made their way through the group stages topping a group that also included fellow semi-finalists The Neale. On their way to taking first place they won three out of three, beating Hollymount-Carramore and the Neale at home and Bonniconlon away. In the quarter-finals they ground out a one point win over Kiltimagh back at the start of August, before they held Parke scoreless in the second half of their semi-final to run out 0-12 to 0-5 winners.
Kiltane landed back into the intermediate grade for the first time in four decades this year, and they hit the ground running and have looked favourites for the title since day one. In the group stages they won three out of three, seeing off Ballyhaunis, Achill, and Kiltimagh. In their last eight encounter, the north Mayo men had to see off the losing finalists of the last three years, Burrishoole, which they did by six points. Kiltane came good in the closing stages of their semi-final to see off last year’s junior champions, The Neale, on a score of 2-18 to 1-11.
Kilmaine hope it’s fourth time lucky
Since they last won this competition, Kilmaine have come up just short on three occasions, in 1994 against Swinford, in 2001 against Kiltimagh, and more recently five years ago against Aghamore in 2008. They have always been one of those sides that have been capable of winning the intermediate grade, but with at least eight sides each year spread across the championship capable of doing so, it’s not an easy one to escape. As for Kiltane, they took enormous pride from holding on to their senior status for so long and will hope that this year is just a blip on that impressive record. Picking a winner is a tough one, but the north Mayo men look to have just enough.