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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.
Fresh off the back of their trouncing of Roscommon last Sunday, the best that Mayo have will be back in the colours of their clubs as round two of the Mayo senior and intermediate championships take centre stage this weekend.
The distraction of Wednesday’s news that Conor Mortimer has decided to leave the Mayo senior panel is the last thing that Mayo manager James Horan will have wanted ahead of Sunday’s Connacht final showdown with Sligo in Hyde Park. Horan’s side had only just been announced by the county board online and through traditional methods a matter of hours when news broke of Mortimer’s decision to leave the panel, bringing the eye of the national and local media on Mayo ahead of Sunday for reasons other than what happens on the field. Mortimer being the second member of the panel to make themselves unavailable for Mayo in a matter of weeks, following Robert Hennelly’s decision leave the panel due to work commitments a few weeks ago.
The big news of Conor Mortimer’s withdrawal from the Mayo squad earlier this week did not take me by surprise.
I was in Dublin last Sunday morning to do a slot with Today FM on the football season ahead, more of which later. I rushed home from Dublin anxious to get back in time for the club championship matches; Crossmolina v Ballinrobe and Ballina v Westport. The big shock for me from all of the fixtures last weekend was the score line from the first game in Crossmolina.
In the 11 years since Mayo claimed their last national senior title, they have gone to Croke Park on four occasions in national finals only to return home empty handed and more often than not on the end of a bit of a beating. All Ireland finals in 2004 and 2006 along with league finals in 2007 and 2010 have all seen Mayo come up short on final day.
Confusion reigns as far as this columnist is concerned in trying to predict the outcome of Sunday’s league final. It is eerily quiet about the place, for many reasons, which has meant the build up to this final has been quite different. There is also a wintry sting in the air these past few days which does not help create an exciting atmosphere for a big game. The reality for the downbeat mood could also have something to do with the fact that that we just do not really know what to expect on Sunday. But I felt that way too for the semi-final, when so few from the participating counties took an interest in proceedings. Very few I met or spoke to prior to the game gave Mayo much of a chance of reaching the league final. Most thought that Kerry had played tricks with the Mayo players’ minds during the final round of the league one week earlier in Tralee. Kerry played with the kind of arrogant cocky swagger which is their wont for most of the afternoon in Croke Park without displaying an ounce of panic until the game had practically slipped away from them. On this occasion there were no big guns on the subs bench to rescue the situation… they were all on the field of play. They played poorly and fitness levels were questionable. They were also missing two of their big stars in Declan O’Sullivan and Tomás Ó Sé, and a combination of these factors meant that they could not stop a more energetic Mayo side once they got a sniff of victory. In times past when Kerry felt any level of threat, they simply put the foot back on the pedal and drove on. Not so on this occasion and after Pat Harte’s brilliantly executed penalty Mayo looked re-energised, fitter, fresher, and stronger as they recorded another famous victory over the Kingdom. The handful of loyal supporters that travelled were not found wanting when assisting their team over the finishing line.
Mayo will make their second trip to Ulster in three weeks when they head to Ballyshannon on Sunday to take on a Donegal side who are rooted to the bottom of division one of the National Football League. The Ulster champions have only picked up one win in their four games so far in the campaign, that win was a surprise win against defending league champions Cork in Ballybofey a fortnight ago. Along with a defeat to Kerry last Sunday, Jim McGuinness’s side have also been beaten by Down and Laois in this year so far.
Being on top of the table in division one of the National Football League after only completing two games, while six of the other seven sides in the division have already played a game extra, has Mayo in good shape ahead of the visit of Down on Sunday to McHale Park.