Two weeks on from the pain of Croke Park, it's back to playing for the pride of the parish this weekend as the quarter-finals and relegation semi-finals of the Treanlaur Catering Senior Football Championships take place. MacHale Park in Castlebar will host two double headers of last eight action on Saturday and Sunday, with the entertainment getting under way with the meetings of Castlebar Mitchels and Ballina Stepehenites at 3.30pm and Charlestown and Garrymore at 5pm tomorrow. The first game is, on paper, probably the game of the weekend, with the two most successful sides in the history of the competition going toe-to-toe. Pat Holmes' Castlebar men go into the game as favourites after blitzing their way through the group stages, which included a comprehensive win over fellow last eight side Breaffy. Holmes' team have been knocking at the door of winning the Moclair Cup for the first time since the early 90s and this year could be their time. With Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffee (if he is fit after having gone off at half-time in the All Ireland final ) and Richie Feeney back in situ, alongside the likes of Danny Kirby, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Alan Feeney, and Ciaran Naughton, Mitchels have the player power to over-run any team in the grade. Not that Ballina will be any pushovers. John Healy's side will have to do without inspirational goalkeeper David Clarke, who had not recovered enough to take any part in Mayo's All Ireland series campaign. Healy will be able to call on experienced players of the calibre of Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte, Ger Cafferkey, and Eanna Casey; while Evan Regan could have a major impact up front if he gets going. This time last year Ballina were staring down the barrel of the relegation gun after a horrible season, but they have pulled themselves together this year and will not give up without a fight. But when all is said and done, Castlebar should just have too much for them.
The second game of the evening pits last year’s intermediate champions Charlestown against the quarter-finalists who look to be the longest shots of being in with a chance, Garrymore. Jack Grimes' side came out of a very tough group which contained the defending champions Ballaghaderreen and the tough duo of Ballinrobe and Aghamore. Enda Varley will be their main man in attack, while former Mayo minor captain Shane Nally is another that will be looked to for leadership on Saturday. Jimmy Killeen will add some punch to the attack of the south Mayo men also and is a regular stand out player in the club scene in Mayo.
As for Charlestown, Denis Kearney's men have bounced back to the senior grade exceptionally well after their brief dalliance with the intermediate championship last year and have been ticking along nicely this summer. Experienced hands like Aiden Higgins, Tom Parsons, and Enda Casey will be required to be on top form come Saturday night if they are to come out on top and book a last four place. This one could come right down to the wire and neither side will be looking any further than Saturday just now.
Sunday's entertainment gets under way with the meeting of the defending county champions, Ballaghaderreen, and the team who have flattered to deceive in recent times, Breaffy. The east Mayo men will be rightly installed as favourites for this game and having had to do without the services of Andy Moran last year in the concluding stages of the championship, he is a welcome addition to their forward line to support the likes of Barry Regan. There is quality throughout the spine of the side, with players of the calibre of David and Stephen Drake, Barry and James Killcullen just a few of their star names Michael Solan hopes can do the job on Sunday. As for Breaffy, Declan O'Reilly has plenty of star names of his own, with Aidan and Seamus O'Shea and Robbie Hennelly back in the fold after their duties with the Mayo senior team, and a trio of victorious Mayo minors also back on board, they have the firepower to trouble Ballaghaderreen. If Breaffy can click, they have the players to win the game and could kick on a lot further into the championship.
The last of the quarter-finals is the meeting of Ballintubber and Knockmore at 3.30pm on Sunday. Ballintubber are back looking to claim their third title in four years and Peter Ford's side are more than capable of doing just that. Alan Dillon, Cillian O'Connor, Danny Geraghty, Jason Gibbons are all back after their efforts with James Horan's team, while Diarmuid O'Connor and Michael Plunkett both tasted success with the Mayo minor team in recent weeks. But it is not just those star names Ford will be able to call on, as Ballintubber have lots of quality and experience all through their squad. However, standing in their way is a team that lives for days like this, Knockmore. Nigel Reapes’ side may not pack as big a punch as they once did, but they love nothing more than championship football in their neck of the woods. Aidan Kilcoyne, Kevin McLoughlin, and Declan Sweeney all know what it takes to win in games like this. But Ballintubber's overall class should see them through.
Battle to beat the drop at high-noon
The fate of the four sides who finished in last place in their groups in the senior championships will become a little clearer before the start of the first game in Castlebar on Sunday. At 12 noon both relegation semi-finals will throw in, the permutations are simple win and you are safe, lose and you have one more chance to beat the drop, when you take on the other losing semi-finalist in the relegation final.
Agahamore and Davitts square off in Ballyhaunis. Davitts lost all three of their group games and will need major performances from Colm Boyle, Mickey Conroy, and Ronan McNamara if they are to get themselves out of this one. But Aghamore will not go down without a major fight, they held Ballaghaderreen to a draw in the first round of the championship, but were not able to press on from there. Alan Freeman is their ace card and he will probably operate out around the middle looking to influence the game from there. It is one of those too-tight to call events and should be a very exciting game. The other senior relegation semi-final is the meeting of Tourmakeady and Shrule-Glencorrib. It is going to be a tough fight in Ballinrobe, but Declan Ronaldson's border men will probably just have the edge come Sunday.
Saturday evening also sees the intermediate championship relegation play-offs where Achill and Mayo Gaels will meet in Breaffy at 5pm and Bonniconlon and Belmullet in Crossmolina at the same time.