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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.
There had not been one shock so far in the first round of the All-Ireland football championship, a few landslide victories that we did not see coming, but no underdog eliminating any overwhelming favourite from their provincial championship. That all changed last Saturday evening in Markevicz Park in Sligo where the home side completely outplayed and outfought a Roscommon side that seemed to believe all their own hype.
The first weekend of the Mayo GAA senior championship had a little bit of everything including one side lining up their entire 15 players in their own half for the start of the second half of their game, a heroic struggle between Mayo men Aidan O’Shea and Colm Boyle against each other for the pride of the parish, the return of Cillian O’Connor to action for Ballintubber and late, late fight back from Kiltane to break the hearts of Shrule-Glencorrib who made the long trip to Bangor.
A number of teams will be looking to have booked their spot in the last eight of the Mayo senior football championship this weekend when the curtain comes down on round two.
It was a weekend for surprises in Elverys MacHale Park in the Treanlaur Catering Senior Football Championship, with the defending champions Ballaghaderreen and the winners of the previous two titles Ballintubber both bowing out of championship at the quarter-final stage. The final of the last eight ties got off to a dramatic start, with most eyes during the warm up trying to see was Cillian O’Connor going to play any part in the game, then suddenly Knockmore’s Aiden Kilcoyne had to be stretchered off the field before a ball had even been kicked in anger. The All Ireland u21 winner, when running away from the team photograph did something to his knee in his run towards the warm up and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher, in some discomfort. It wasn’t the start that Nigel Reape would have been hoping for, but his charges, knuckled down without their marquee forward and tore into Peter Ford’s Ballintubber side. The main man in the clash was Declan Sweeney who rolled back the years with a performance for the ages in the full-forward position. He ran Cathal Hallinan ragged all day, and Hallinan didn’t have a particularly bad game and was the key difference between the sides. Knockmore were leading by 0-3 to 0-2 after ten minutes, when Ballintubber hit the first goal of the game to push themselves into the lead. Padraic O’Connor dropped the ball into the danger area and Knockmore goalkeeper Andrew Higgins didn’t cover himself in glory as the ball spilled loose and a combination of Alan Plunkett and Damien McGing combined to force the ball over the line from close range. But Knockmore weren’t going to bend the knee easily and 14 minutes later they pushed themselves back into a 0-8 to 1-3 lead thanks to points from Kieran Langan, Andrew Keane, Tom Clarke and a brace from Declan Sweeney. The north Mayo men tagged on two more points before the break through Kevin McLoughlin and they had the bit between their teeth at the turn around and headed for the dressing room leading 0-10 to 1-3. Diarmuid O’Connor opened the scoring in the second half with a fine point a minute in, but two minutes later the definitive moment of the game arrived when Knockmore bagged their only goal of the contest. Shane McHale who put in a top-class shift in around the middle third hit an effort for a point that came back off the post and Darren McHale was the quickest to react to the rebound a drove the ball high to the roof of Brendan Walsh’s net to put Reape’s side into a six point lead. But Ballintubber were not throwing in the towel just yet and they reeled off four points without reply in the next ten minutes to close the gap to just two points. Padraic O’Connor kicked three frees and Jason Gibbons added the other from distance. The game looked to be ebbing back towards the west Mayo men, but this was going to be Knockmore’s day and two pointed frees from Kieran Langan sandwiched other efforts from Stephen Sweeney and Kevin McLoughlin stretched their lead out to six points with ten minutes to go. Ballintubber went looking for goals at the end and they couldn’t dig themselves out of this one and Knockmore toughed it out at the end to win by 1-15 to 1-10.
Two weeks on from the pain of Croke Park, it's back to playing for the pride of the parish this weekend as the quarter-finals and relegation semi-finals of the Treanlaur Catering Senior Football Championships take place. MacHale Park in Castlebar will host two double headers of last eight action on Saturday and Sunday, with the entertainment getting under way with the meetings of Castlebar Mitchels and Ballina Stepehenites at 3.30pm and Charlestown and Garrymore at 5pm tomorrow. The first game is, on paper, probably the game of the weekend, with the two most successful sides in the history of the competition going toe-to-toe. Pat Holmes' Castlebar men go into the game as favourites after blitzing their way through the group stages, which included a comprehensive win over fellow last eight side Breaffy. Holmes' team have been knocking at the door of winning the Moclair Cup for the first time since the early 90s and this year could be their time. With Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffee (if he is fit after having gone off at half-time in the All Ireland final) and Richie Feeney back in situ, alongside the likes of Danny Kirby, Aidan Walsh, Neil Douglas, Alan Feeney, and Ciaran Naughton, Mitchels have the player power to over-run any team in the grade. Not that Ballina will be any pushovers. John Healy's side will have to do without inspirational goalkeeper David Clarke, who had not recovered enough to take any part in Mayo's All Ireland series campaign. Healy will be able to call on experienced players of the calibre of Ronan McGarrity, Pat Harte, Ger Cafferkey, and Eanna Casey; while Evan Regan could have a major impact up front if he gets going. This time last year Ballina were staring down the barrel of the relegation gun after a horrible season, but they have pulled themselves together this year and will not give up without a fight. But when all is said and done, Castlebar should just have too much for them.
A week seems a long time in sport, when I sat down to watch the All-Ireland hurling final replay on Saturday evening last I could not believe it was only six short days after Mayo’s agonising one point defeat to Dublin in the football final, it now seems like the game was on about three months ago. The evenings are getting shorter and for the players unfortunately reality bites. It is a horrible feeling, most of them would have taken the week off work to either celebrate or simply drown their sorrows, and to wake up last Monday morning and return to their daily lives is really the hard part for them especially as they left without the holy grail. It is very depressing. I have to commend the two O’Sheas and Robbie Hennelly who were very giving of their time to supporters after the Breaffy and Charlestown league match last Sunday, signing every autograph and taking part for every picture request.
A hugely impressive second-half performance to which Ballaghadereen simply had no answer, saw Roscommon champions St Brigid’s secure the Connacht title for the third year running.
Connacht senior club final