After last weekend’s adventures on the national stage it’s back to the basics of the Connacht Junior League for the Mayo sides in division 1A and 1B. Both Castlebar and Ballina bowed out of the All Ireland Junior Cup last weekend at the first round stage, with Westport the only Mayo side to progress to the next round of the competition. With four games to go for two of the Mayo sides in the league it’s do or die time as they try to finish in the top four of the exclusively junior sides to book their place in the All Ireland cup for next year.
Castlebar are currently the leading Mayo side in the division sitting in fifth place in the table with five wins from eight games, along with a draw and solitary bonus point leaving them on 23 points. Ballina are sitting on the same number of points in sixth place thanks to four wins from their nine games, but they have managed to pick up a bonus point in seven of their games so far this season to keep them in the running for a spot in the showpiece competition.
Westport are currently back in ninth spot in the table, after a very shaky and slow start the Bulls have been beginning to find their form of late but can’t afford any more slip ups as the season begins to wind down. They have won only three games from eight and drawn one. But have picked up a bonus point from half of their games to leave them on 18 points and by no means out of the reckoning come the final standings.
Big challenges for all sides this weekend
This weekend Castlebar will travel to border club Corrib in Headford as they look to cement their place in the higher reaches of the table. The north Galway side have been moving along nicely themselves and would be sitting on 21 points in the table, but were deducted three points earlier in the season after a disciplinary hearing. It will be a stern test for the Castlebar men who went down 23-17 in last weekend’s All Ireland Junior Cup in Cloondesh. They led the game early on 7-0, thanks to a Eugene Butterworth try and Robbie Cusack conversion but some sloppy play as the half progressed, including an intercept try, let Richmond build up a 17-7 lead at the break. Castlebar weren’t able to get back into the game as much in the second half as they would have liked. Two penalties from the Limerick men nullified the effect of a late Nigel Byrne try to see the visitors run out six point winners.
Ballina will host title chancing Corinthians in Heffernan Park on Sunday and like Castlebar will be hoping to shake off their cup blues with a win. The Galway side have won seven of their eight games so far but find themselves five points behind league leaders Sligo. They will go into the game as favourites, but Ballina have been very competitive this year no matter who they have faced, demonstrated by the fact they have taken seven bonus points from their eight games. They lost out to Cill Dara 10-6 last weekend after taking the lead early on in the first half, but some neat play by the visitors allowed them to build up a four point lead at half time which they didn’t let go. Ivan Heffernan will be hoping that his side can shake this defeat out of their systems on Sunday when the second place side in the league arrive in north Mayo.
Westport are the last Mayo side standing in the All Ireland Junior Cup and could be about to rescue a season that looked early on to be doomed. Their 14-11 win over fellow Junior League side Corrib in Headford was a hard fought affair with Kevin Corcoran and JP Walsh getting the decisive tries for the Bulls. This weekend they welcome a Creggs side to Carrowholly who are rooted in a basement battle at the bottom of the table. Westport got rid of the early season blues in the few weeks before the winter break, and coming back with a big win like last weekend’s early in the new year will have them in fine form ahead of this clash.