There were 16 teams when it started out, but only four remain as the semi-finals of the Mayo GAA senior football championship are down for decision in Elverys MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon.
Last year’s defending champions Castlebar Mitchels booked their spot in the final four a fortnight ago with a comfortable 11 point win over Aghamore. They will get things going on Sunday, when they face off against a Garrymore side who have had an impressive run to this stage of the competition so far. Mitchels will go in as rightful favourites to book a spot in the final, but the south Mayo men will be no pushovers having come out of a tough group which featured Knockmore, (who themselves have booked a spot in the final four ) Kiltane, and Ballinrobe. The south Mayo men had two points to spare over Charlestown in the last eight of the competition and will be whetting their lips at getting a craic at the county town side.
The battle in the middle of the park is one to keep an eye on with the Garrymore duo of Shane Nally and Caoilean Crowe putting in very good showings so far this year. They will come up against the twin towers of Barry Moran and Danny Kirby in the toughest midfield battle they have faced so far this year.
Mitchels, who finally claimed the county title last year after a couple of near misses in the previous years, will not be giving up their crown easily, and their management duo of Alan Nolan and Shane Conway are two of the canniest men on the sideline in the game, and have taken like ducks to water to their role since stepping up to the hotseat after Pat Holmes stepped aside following their All Ireland final defeat in March.
For Garrymore a lot will depend on getting their attacker’s firing right, at club level Enda Varley has shown he is one of the best in the business, and alongside the experienced Jimmy Killeen will have the fire power to trouble the Mitchels’ defence. However getting the chances from a back six that includes Tom Cunniffe, Alan Feeney, and Patrick Durcan is not going to be that easy. Up front for Mitchels, Neil Douglas, Neil Lydon, and Aidan Walsh are well capable or racking up the scores. Garrymore cannot afford to let Mitchels get off a big start early on or it could be a long day for them in the county grounds.
Verdict: Castlebar Mitchels
The second semi-final on Sunday sees the meeting of the Knockmore and Ballintubber at 3.30pm. Both sides met in the championship as recently as last season, where the north Mayo men sprang somewhat of a surprise when they turfed out the men from the west at the quarter-final. It is an easy thing to say that you can never write off Knockmore, but it is one of the most basic truths of the game in Mayo. Despite being ravaged by injuries to key men, Nigel Reape has managed to get his charges to navigate a tricky group and then go on to deservingly knock-out one of the fancied sides in the competition at the group stages when they saw off Breaffy.
Kevin McLoughlin is the main man for Knockmore and is at the heart of everything they do, but as they showed in their quarter-final win, they are a team with a massive worth ethic and do not care for reputations. Keith Ruttledge and Ger Gaughan were both big game players last time out and will be relied upon to deliver against a star studded Ballintubber line up.
When they were thrown out of the competition last year by the same opposition, Ballintubber were without the services of Cillian O’Connor, but he is back in situ this year, and with Alan Dillon, Diarmuid O’Connor, and Alan Plunkett (who shot the lights out in the quarter-final scoring 1-6 from play ) in support, Ballintubber have everything you could look for in attack. Peter Ford’s men will go in as favourites to make the final, but Knockmore probably would not want it any other way.
Super Saturday in store
It is not just on Sunday that all eyes will be on Elverys MacHale Park, with the senior championship relegation final down for decision at 2pm on Saturday. Neither Ballina Stephenites nor Westport had planned on being in this particular final at the start of the year, but they have got an hour to retain their senior status for next year. Ballina dropped into the final, thanks to a 3-12 to 1-7 defeat at the hands from fellow north Mayo men, Kiltane, last weekend. Westport were dispatched to this round by Crossmolina Deel Rovers the week before. While history and heritage would sway on the side of Ballina, they will not be taking anything for granted on Saturday, and know they will have to get more return from their forward line than they did last time out, when Evan Regan (1-6 ) was the only one of their starting 15 to trouble the scoreboard at all against Kiltane. Westport will be looking for Lee Keegan to drive them on while Ryan Cafferkey and Ruari Connolly will be needed to have their shooting boots with them.
That game will be followed by the replay of the intermediate semi-final between Hollymount-Carramore and Belmullet at 3.30pm. Hollymount-Carramore manager, Noel Connelly, has been in the headlines all week for reasons he would have preferred not to have been. But he will have been more concerned with his side letting a four point lead slip late on against a tough Belmullet side. In last weekend’s drawn game, Jonathan Donoghue was the main man on show kicking nine points, three of them from play, and showed nerves of steel late on with some vital kicks. It will be another tough encounter on Saturday.