The 16 teams looking to bring the McDonnell Cup home this season will get their championship season under way this weekend when the Mayo GAA Junior Football Championship throws in venues from right across the country. Last year's beaten finalists Killala, will get their 2016 season under way with a tasty local derby against last year's Junior B champions, Ballycastle, in a north Mayo coastal derby. This group three game will also see two of the Mayo junior team's leading lights come face to face with Andrew Farrell the main man for Killala and Micheal Forde the go to guy for Ballycastle. Both sides met in the league earlier with Killala just about taking the win and their greater experience should carry them through again on Saturday evening.
Going back to group one, Achill are a side who feel they still have plenty of unfinished business, they lost out after an epic semi-final to Killala last year after losing the final the year before, and the islanders will be keen to finally get their hands on the McDonnell Cup this year. Their opponents on Sunday are Charlestown's second string who are playing in a lower division than the islanders and, combined with home advantage, Achill should take the points.
The other game in group one sees Lahardane McHales host Crossmolina's B team on Sunday evening in the Nephin derby. While the visitors will be sending their B team over the road for this clash, they'll still be a tricky outfit for an improving Lahardane side who have had a good start to the league season and they will have had their eyes fixed on this date since the draw was made, and a win is essential for the hosts.
In group two on Sunday, two sides who have some of the most picturesque scenery surrounding them on either side of the mouth of Clew Bay will go toe to toe when Louisburgh host Ballycroy at 2pm. On paper the hosts should have too much for the Ballycroy men, playing league football two divisions higher then them and making the quarter-finals of the competition last year, while Ballycroy only maintained their status in the grade after winning in the relegation play-offs.
The other game in this group sees the meeting of Kilfian and Cill Chomain in a classic north Mayo junior clash. Cill Chomain were the side who dropped back into the junior ranks last year after they were relegated from the intermediate championship. Having only won the junior title a few years ago the Cill Chomain men will be looking to bounce straight back up. Kilfian will find it tough against their neighbours, but as is wont in any north Mayo junior clash anything can happen when local pride is at stake.
The group three meeting of Kilmeena and Ballintubber B should be an interesting encounter, this all west Mayo clash sees the meeting of the side who are top of Division 1D in the league Kilmeena, who have won five from six, and a Ballintubber B side who have done pretty well in the same division, winning three from six. In what will be a very tough group, with Killala and Ballycastle the other two sides in it, a win is a must for either side if they want to make the last eight. Ballintubber's second string will be no slouches, but home advantage could be key in deciding the outcome of this one.
The last group is another interesting foursome, with Balla, Ballina Stephenites B, Swinford B and Ardagh all well capable of making a dent in the latter stages of the competition. In round one Balla will host Ballina B on Saturday evening in a game in which the west Mayo men will be itching to lay down a marker. A lot of good work has been done in Balla on the underage scene over the last number of years and they have provided a number of players to Mayo underage teams in recent years. This is a year Balla will be looking to make an impact and on Saturday evening at 7pm they have the perfect opportunity to lay down a first marker in the championship.
The other game in the group also takes place on Saturday evening, when Swinford will host Ardagh. The north Mayo men are playing league football a couple of divisions higher than their hosts and that, coupled with making the last eight of the championship, while Swinford had to fight it out in the relegation play-offs to stay in the grade, would signal that a win for the visitors on Saturday would be the expected outcome.