And then there were four, the Mayo junior championship is rattling its way to a conclusion, with last weekend's replayed quarter-final between Ballycastle and Crossmolina sorting out the last spot in the final four. Tomorrow evening a double header of games will take place in MacHale Park to decide the final two in the competition and two thrilling encounters should be in store.
Balla v Ballycastle
Saturday September 3 at 5pm
In MacHale Park
This year could be the the one when Balla start making big strides back towards the upper reaches of the club game in the county, after a number of fallow years they have put in a lot of work with their underage structures and they are starting to pay dividends. Both sides have met in the league already this year, with the north Mayo men coming out on top by a single point on a score of 2-8 to 2-7 in their seaside Mayo outpost.
In their championship groups, Ballycastle topped theirs with two wins over last year's beaten finalists Killala and Ballintubber B, while they drew with fellow semifinalists Kilmeena, and Balla finished their group with a 100 per cent record with wins over Ardagh, Ballina B, and Swinford B.
Ballycastle only got their spot in the semifinal sorted out last weekend, following the error in scorekeeping on day one against Crossmolina B, but they made no mistake this time around with a seven point win over the Deelside boys last Sunday in Ballina. Micheál Forde was on top form last weekend kicking 1-3 over the hour, while six other players got in on the scoring act with Fergal Forde kicking four points, two from frees and another from a 45. Having won the junior B crown last year, getting this far in the championship is the stuff of dreams for them, but they will need an almighty effort to get over Balla on Saturday.
The west Mayo men slipped down through the ranks from senior right down to junior over the past 20 years and a concerted effort has been made to get themselves back up to the grades. With former inter-county man Pat Fallon managing them, they have plenty of experience on the sideline and they had to work hard to get over Cill Chomain three weeks ago in the quarterfinal stage. They edged out the north Mayo men by two points in the end as they battled back from behind, and with 14 men when Shane Conway was sent to the stands. Matthew Flanagan who may be better known to most as a goalkeeper, kicked two points from full forward in that win, with Barry Duffy and Gary McHale finding the net in the first half of the contest. Balla will be looking for big games from Flanagan and his brother Ger along with Val Roughneen and Barry Duffy who were both part of this year's All Ireland U21 winning Mayo squad.
While Ballycastle are riding a great wave at the moment, the need might be just that bit greater in Balla at the minute.
Kilmeena v Louisburgh
Saturday September 3 at 6.30pm
In MacHale Park
This west Mayo derby should be another tasty part of the junior semifinal double header and Mayo GAA headquarters tomorrow evening. Kilmeena along with Ballycastle have been the surprise package of this year's junior championship, coming out of the same group as the north Mayo men, eliminating Killala in the process.
Mickey Feeney's men have been flying on all cylinders this year and are also sitting in second place in division 1D of the league with seven wins from their nine games level on points with table toppers Lahardane. While getting out of the group was a surprise to some, taking out Achill in the last eight in a tough battle in Westport three weeks ago was another feather in their caps. Darragh Keaveny's winning score in injury time was the difference between themselves and the islanders at full time in a contest that they only ever led once, when it counted. Joey Smythe kicked 1-2 that day, but picked up an injury in the win, while Ryan Feehan chipped in with four points, three of them from frees, and match winner Keavney added three of his own in the win which saw four of their six starting forwards find the target.
As for the men from the seaside further south along the coast, they had a 100 per cent record after the group stages of the championship seeing off Ballycroy and Cill Chomain, with Kilfian giving them a walk over in round one. They faced more north Mayo opposition in the quarter final stages of the competition when they had five points to spare over Ardagh three weeks ago in Castlebar. Louisburgh hit the ground running in that game finding the back of the net three times in the opening 30 minutes, with old stager and former inter-county man Austin O'Malley, and Paul McDonnell and Pádraig Prendergast. O'Malley put in a man of the match display scoring 1-2 over the 60 minutes as he looks to help push his club back up the levels of Mayo club football. He was ably supported by former Mayo minor Prendergast and Kevin Gibbons and James Gibbons. This one could have very little in it, Kilmeena are flying but so are Louisburgh who are also operating at a higher level in the league which could give them the edge down the home straight on Saturday evening.