The Mayo football championship kicked into life in sweltering Mediterranean like conditions last weekend. Defending champions Castlebar Mitchels showed no ill effects from their All-Ireland final nightmare two months ago when they easily accounted for Crossmolina Deel Rovers despite fielding just over half of the team that started in that All Ireland final.
Let's be honest, there are very few teams in the country that have the personnel to win championship games with so many players missing. It is testament to the quality of the panel they have. Crossmolina will not thank me for this but I am glad the Mitchels got off to a winning start and eradicated any lack of confidence they may have been experiencing since St Patrick’s Day. Danny Kirby certainly showed watching former Crossmolina player and current Mayo senior manager Stephen Rochford what he is capable of, scoring a hat-trick of goals. Breaffy, another team fancied by many, eventually got the job done against Garrymore, winning by six points. With the talent at their disposal, back boned by five senior inter county players and three prominent All Ireland winning u21 players surely Breaffy will make a cut at this year's championship.
Two sides stake a claim
There has to be enough quality within the rest of the group to attempt to wrestle the Moclair Cup from Castlebar. The two stand out results however occurred in group two where last year's intermediate champions Hollymount-Carramore stunned the competition's second favourites Ballintubber in Clogher. The other game saw Aghamore dish out a proper hiding to my own club Charlestown in Fr O'Hara Park. The unusual 3-03 scored by Hollymount/Carrmore simply tells you goals win games and despite their obvious potential Ballintubber are facing an uphill battle and will need two wins in their next two games to make it to the quarter-finals. Aghamore have certainly laid down a marker beating Charlestown by a massive 16 points. There is no doubt they are the number one contenders in east Mayo and the east's best chance of challenging the bigger teams for silverware. They have blistering pace all over the field, are very athletic, and in Brendan Harrisson and Alan Freeman they have two match winners. Couple this with Fergal Boland who scored 1-4 and David Kenny who now have All Ireland u21 medals along with a lot of their victorious county u21 winning team of last season coming through, and you are dealing with a pretty serious outfit. Their final group game against Ballintubber is already whetting the appetite as it could ultimately decide Ballintubber's fate. If you are looking for an outside bet for the Moclair Cup, look no further than Aghamore.
Looking at Leinster
I had my first experience of the Leinster championship last Saturday evening when I did co commentary on Radio One for the Carlow v Louth first round game in Portlaois. It was a glorious evening for football and the game was nip and tuck up until the last 10 minutes when recently crowned Division 4 champions Louth literally turned up the heat and ran riot for those last 10 minutes. We may not be very familiar with them but in Jim McEaneany and Ryan Burns Louth have two very good forwards who were a delight to watch and would probably mix it with the best (I know I have to take the opposition into account ).
Burns finished the game with 1-7 in a fantastic individual display while McEaneany is the ultimate centre forward play maker who also knows where the posts are, scoring three points himself. Louth will certainly give Meath a game in the Leinster quarter final. What bemused me the most was the poor attendance at O'Moore Park, considering there was a double header as Laois played Wicklow after the Carlow and Louth game. Mayo have had bigger crowds at almost all of their League games. The €25 entrance fee and the fact that Dublin would not have to get out of second gear to beat the pick of the four teams has probably left the supporters in the other Leinster counties demoralised. Laois's booby prize for beating Wicklow is of course a quarter final against the Dubs. We will finally see if Roscommon are able to put their New York nightmare to bed when they take on Leitrim on Sunday. I expect Leitrim to receive the backlash of that poor performance in Gaelic Park.