After this weekends final round of action in the group stages of the Mayo GAA Senior Football Championship we now know the eight sides who’ll be contesting the knock-out stages. Breaffy, Castlebar Mitchels, Ballintubber and Kiltane all won their groups and Knockmore, Ballina Stephenites, Aghamore and Garrymore joined them after finishing in second place in their respective groups.
The best place to start is on Sunday in group four with the game that was the last contest to blow full-time in group stages of the championship. It was win or bust for Charlestown against Kiltane. They’d never led in the entire game against the north Mayo men, but as injury time ticked into its second minute, they worked a chance and unfortunately for Paul Warde, he skewed his effort wide of the post from close range. Garryowen McMahon blew the full-time whistle after Michael John Reilly’s kick-out and that was that, Kiltane went on to the last eight as group winners and Charlestown were out. The margins in this group were so fine, that if Charlestown had won, Kiltane would have slipped from table toppers to third place and out of the competition. But the north Mayo men held firm and are now looking forward to a place in the last eight of the competition later on this summer.
The damage to Charlestown’s chances wasn’t done by the last second wide, it was the multiple wides they kicked in the second half along with a missed penalty from Martin Mulvaney ten minutes before the break. The Charlestown number tens’ spot kick wasn’t well struck, but Reilly still had to go the right way, which he did and he held on to the ball to ensure there was no chance from a rebound.
Kiltane led by 1-8 to 0-6 at the break, thanks to an early flurry of scores and a goal from Mikey Sweeney six minutes in. Sweeney along with Shane Lindsay and Tommy Conroy were on top form in the first half, running the Charlestown defence ragged as the vocal travelling support made such noise one could be forgiven for thinking the game was being played in Bangor Erris and not in east Mayo.
Charlestown had plenty of the ball but found scores hard to come by with Martin Mulvanney leading the way for them in the first half kicking five of their six points. But Kiltane looked to be the team who were more hungry and ravenous in the opening exchanges sniping for every loose ball and working harder for every 50/50.
The second half saw a complete shift, with the home team taking control of the contest and limiting Kiltane to just a single point from a Shane Lindsay free eight minutes into the half, but at the end how vital that point was. Charlestown’s scores came in bursts in the second half, points from Colm Maye and Niall Murphy in the sixth minute, then two more Maye points and one from Gareth O’Donnell between the 12th and 15th minute had the game back to a one point game. The wind was behind the hosts, but they couldn’t set their sails right to take advantage. Two minutes from the end of normal time Jack Reilly tied it up, but it was still a matter of needing to get one more to make the last eight and they just couldn't find the answer as Kiltane tackled tigerishly and off the ball scraps broke out with regularity down the home straight. At the end of the day, Kiltane got what they wanted and will be delighted to be heading home with a place in the last eight under their arms, they know how to fight and hold on down there and won’t fear anyone else left in the championship at all.
The other game that was taking place in that group at the same time saw the meeting of Shrule-Glencorrib and Garrymore in Garrymore and it was the home-side who ran out easy winners on a score of 3-17 to 0-8. Enda Varley was in fine form gabbing two goals for the winners with Trevor Nally scoring the other. Mark Tierney was also in fine scoring form for the winners kicking six points. That win sent last years semi-finalists back into the last eight for another year and dropped Shrule-Glencorib into the relegation play-offs.
Breaffy hit top spot, while Davitts stage great escape
There were also two games in group one of the championship on Sunday afternoon. Both Breaffy and Knockmore were already through to the last eight and they met in north Mayo on Sunday to decided who claimed top spot and a seeded draw for the quarter-finals. It was the west Mayo men who sealed that place thanks to a 3-9 to 1-7 win against the home side. Breaffy led by 2-4 to 0-6 at the break with Gareth Dunne and Matthew Ruane getting the goals, they stretched out their lead in the second half with Tommy O’Reilly grabbing a third goal and Robbie Hennelly slotting over a few placed balls to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
While there was no chance of a spot in the quarter-finals for either side in the other game in the group, it was the one with the most riding on it. Ballyhaunis entertained Davitts in what was a rip-roaring encounter that wasn’t sorted it out right up to the very last minute, or the sixth minute of injury time to be precise. The permutations were simple whomever lost would go into the relegation play-offs with the winner staying safe in senior for another year, a draw would also keep Davitts safe by virtue of their scoring difference record.
Any late comer to the game would have missed the only goal of the contest as Davitts hit the ground running. Colm Boyle dispatched the ball long into Ronan McNamara who held off his man and fed Cathal Hennelly who dispatched the ball low past Adrian Phillips to give the visitors a great foothold in the contest early on. While a late comer would have been disappointed to have missed the goal, they’d have also had to try and figure out which side was which, with Davitts donning their electric lime away kit and Ballyhaunis were turned out in the white and blue of Connacht.
Niall Prenty hit back with a pointed free for Ballyhaunis as both sides felt each other out. With 20 minutes gone, the visitors held a 1-2 to 0-3 lead, but Ballyhaunis were the side seeing most of the ball. Goalkeeper Philips cut the gap back to one with a long range points eight minutes from the break and that was followed by scores from Niall Prenty, Stephen Hoban and a boming effort from Brian Hunt to put Ballyhaunis into a 0-7 to 1-2 lead as the first half looked to be winding down. However referee Vincent Neary decided there was seven minutes injury time to be played in the game and Davitts were able to rustle up another score in those minutes to leave just the minumum between them at the break.
Keith Higgins who had a fine game and was involved in a one-on-one dual with his fellow inter-county team-mate Colm Boyle for most of the afternoon, should have found the back of the net for his side just after the restart, but he pulled his effort wide of the post. Colm Roche levelled the game up shortly afterwards, but Ballyhaunis hit back with four unanswered points from Prenty, Brian O’Neill, Higgins and John Prenty as the game reached it’s three-quarter mark. That gap looked like it could be enough to seal the win and keep the home side safe. But if Davitts are one thing it’s dogged and even without the services of Mayo panelist Michael Conroy they kept plugging away. Josh Ronayne slotted over a point, then Liam Kearns kicked to point from frees shortly afterwards and there was just one point in it with eight minutes left on the clock. Both sides spurned a couple of good chances, and with the allotted 30 minutes up Kearns put another point on the board to tie things up once more and have the visitors fans delighted. That delight turned to horror two minutes into injury time, when Keith Higgins stepped back into the pocket and had time to slot over what looked like the winning score from the edge of the D. But there was still plenty of drama left to come. Ronan McNamara had a chance from a free tight to the stand side of the field and at least 45 yards out. His radar was off and it dropped to the right and short, but Davitts still had time on their side and in the sixth minute of added time a much simpler chance from a free presented itself and McNamara made no mistake this time, stroking the ball over the bar and getting the point that his side needed. It was a bruising encounter, real championship stuff, nail biting right to the final few seconds
Mitchels keep rolling and Ballina strike back
On Saturday night in group two Castlebar Mitchels maintained their 100 per cent record in this years championship with a comprehensive and expected win over Claremorris. The Mitchels ran out 2-16 to 0-9 winners over the hour in south Mayo. At the same time as that game was going on, Ballina Stephenites were hosting Ballaghaderreen in James Stephens Park with a place in the last eight up for grabs for the winners. Ballina were dealt a blow before the game with David Clarke ruled out due to an injury picked up midweek, with Mark Duffy coming in between the sticks in place of the man who had just reclaimed the Mayo number one shirt. Ballaghderreen were also missing Andy Moran who was only fit enough to take a place on the bench for the game. The game was a sloppy encounter with neither side really able to stamp their mark on it effectively, it was all square at two points a piece after opening 12 minutes, with Barry Regan scoring two frees for the guests and Brendan O’Hora and Thomas Doherty chipping in with scores for Ballina. With five minutes to go before the break the hosts were trailing 0-5 to 0-4 with Regan, Darragh Kelly and Cormac Doohan scoring points for Eamon O’Hara’s men, while Ciaran Sweeney and Rory Campion landed scores for Ballina. The home side were the ones who held the advantage at the short whistle with O’Hora and Lorcan Healy adding on points before the end of the half to send their side in leading on a scoreline of 0-6 to 0-5.
Andy Moran was introduced at the break by Ballaghaderreen in an attempt to get their attack moving better, but they failed to get enough ball into the Mayo man to get a decent return from his presence in the side. However seven minutes into the half, the visitors were leading by two points with Gavin Conway, Stephen Drake and Darragh Kelly all finding the target with. But that was to be the last time they could raise a white flag as Ballina ground their way back into the game with David O’Mahony and Ryan Keane kicking the scores to level the contest up at 0-8 to 0-8 with 11 minutes to go. Ballina just seemed to want it more and another O’Mahony point from a free put his side into the lead and a Rory Tighe point in injury time sealed the win and sent Ballina into the last eight of the championship.
Champions continue to impress
In group three of the championship, the defending champions Ballintubber continued their ominous run of form so far in the competition for everyone else who has designs on winning the title this season. For the second week in a row, they lined out without their inter-county trio of Alan Dillon, Cillian O’Connor and Diarmuid O’Conor in their starting 15. Both Dillion and the elder O’Connor did make appearances from the bench, but to be able to keep that trio in reserve form a starting line-up and still win comfortably shows the strength in depth and resolve of this particular side. Standing in their way this weekend was the former powerhouse from north Mayo, Crossmolina Deel Rovers. But Ballintubber ran out 2-11 to 0-7 winners, with a particularly impressive second half display. The visitors were actually leading by 0-6 to 0-5 at the break, but Ballintubber outscored them 2-6 to 0-1 over the final 30 minutes, with Alan Plunkett registering 2-4 for his evenings work and Padraic O’Connor kicking three points. That win saw Ballintubber top the group and head to the quarter-finals. Joining them in the last eight will be Aghamore who went from being the side in the group without a win in the championship up until this round, to jumping over both the Deel Rovers and Ballinrobe at the death. The east Mayo men had seven points to spare over Ballinrobe on Saturday evening in a 1-15 to 1-18 win, that result saw them skip past the two other sides in the group who finished on two points from their three games on scoring difference and into the last eight.
Breaffy, Knockmore, Castlebar Mitchels, Ballina Stepenites, Kiltane, Garrymore, Ballintubber, Aghamore
Ballyhaunis, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, Shrule-Glencorrib.