The All Ireland minor championship sponsors have been using the tagline "this is major" as part of their promotion of that grade in recent years and it could quite easily be applied to what is going to happen on Sunday when Ardnaree and Killala meet at 3pm in the Mayo junior final. This all north Mayo battle promises to be an encounter that will be one for the ages. Ardanree have been knocking at the door in the junior championship so hard over the past number of years there is no paint left on it at this stage, but they have just failed to make grade each time, losing finals in 2009, 2011, and 2012. You also have to go back as far as 1971 to find the last time they claimed the title.
On Sunday afternoon Declan O'Dea's men will go looking to put right the wrongs of the past number of years when they take on a club that O'Dea managed to the title in 2000 and even had his son as a member of their panel for the game. It is as local as you can get, this one. Ardanree have been very impressive so far this year, getting through the group stages with ease, before dispatching their nearest neighbours Ballina Stephenites with ease in the quarter-final in a torrential downpour in Knockmore. They then faced another north Mayo challenge when Ardagh were dispatched in the most comprehensive style possible in the last four where they ran out 3-15 to 0-2 winners. That statement of intent is something they will look to follow up again this Sunday in MacHale Park.
O'Dea will be looking to captain Eoin McCormack who has been in outstanding form this year to keep up his performance levels, the corner forward scored 1-5 in their semi-final win and has the capability to really cut loose if given the chance. At the back Blaine Ginty is a solid presence in goal, with a full back line ahead of him marshaled by Ian Clarke with Conor Naylor and Conor Cawley flanking him in the corner. The half back line has the likes of Shane Timlin and Michael McCormack working the flanks with Pat Lacken anchoring the side together.
Their midfield duo of Stephen Tighe and Martin Rafter will have to be on the top of their game to hold down the challenge from Killala's central trio of Andrew Farrell, Shane Maheady, and Brendan Garvin who were so important to Killala's win over Achill in the semi-final. While upfront for Ardanree Noelie Beatie, Rory Clarke, and Cathal Noone will be expected to provide support to McCormack and Chris Walsh and John Egan.
As for Killala, they have done it the hard way to get this far and they have had their character well and truly examined on more than one occasion. After getting out of the group stages, they were pushed all the way by Crossmolina Deel Rovers B in the quarter-final, only scraping by thanks to a late injury time 45 from Andrew Farrell. In the semi-final, they needed 120 minutes of football to see off Achill to book their final place. If it was not for some bad free taking by Achill right at the death the first day, their interest in the competition would have been well and truly ended a number of weeks ago. But they learned from their mistakes and came back stronger the next day, running out 2-12 to 1-14 winners, with Andrew Farrell the star attraction. He scored 1-5 on the day and was the heartbeat of the team, working his socks off until the end. Farrell, along with Maheady and Garvin, bossed the middle of the park and was the fulcrum to everything good that they did that day. On Sunday they will need the likes of Michael Barrett, Michael Dooher, and Kevin McLoughlin to keep things locked up tight at the back, with Martin Maheady, Karl Dooher, and David Lowther shoring up the half-back line. While we have already mentioned their key trio in the middle of the park, they have other potent attackers in the likes of Darragh Herbert, Alex Quinn, and Conor Gilvarry who will need to be tied down.
Each side has won the junior title three times, with Killala last claiming the crown in 2008 before being bounced back down to junior a few years later, while for Ardnaree it has been a long wait since 1971. While the need for both sides is great in this battle, it is going to be close to 4.15pm when we find out whose need is greatest.