THREE league rounds into the new season and nothing on the horizon suggests the emergence of a dark horse in the championship race. The familiar big guns are spitting fire and any one of them is capable of downing the other.
And if the throne of the county champions has not yet been endangered, you can bet it is firmly in the sights of their old rivals in Breaffy and Ballintubber and Knockmore.
The league is important for championship preparation. Even at this early stage in the season – when peripheral players have been standing in for some regulars and full teams rarely fielded – you are judged by your standing in the table. Any kind of slippage tends to draw adverse comment.
Breaffy lead the way with full points from three games, and seem assured of a place in the final shake-up at the back end. So far they have discovered in customary midfielder Seamus O’Shea a centre back of rare quality.
Although they have lost a couple of players, the unearthing of that O’Shea nugget is itself a basis for optimism. Theirs is a tough assignment on Saturday though when they take on Davitts in the opening round of the championship. They’ll be keen to maintain their winning start, but nothing can be taken for granted.
If any vague outline of an outsider is to be seen on the horizon, it might be in the shape of Aghamore, who reached the quarter-finals last season and who have raked in a total of 14-27 in their three recent league games.
Crossmolina were hit for eight of those goals by the prolific East Mayo side, even without their county hot shot Fergal Boland. In Ross Egan they had an able deputy, who accounted for two of those goals. Mayo defender Brendan Harrison, in a midfield role, had two further green flags raised, and another goal came from the boot of Alan Freeman, who has just left the county panel.
Claremorris, who are showing impressive form in the league, will put the East Mayo men to the test on Sunday in what ought to be a well-contested duel. If league form is any yardstick, the visitors might just shade it.
Knockmore, who eliminated Aghamore from the championship last season, are a constant contender for county honours. That old fighting spirit is already on view this season. Against Hollymount/Carramore they knocked in 5-11. Of that total, Keith Ruttledge harvested 3-2 enhancing his reputation as perhaps their most perceptive forward.
They travel to Charlestown and, in view of the Sarsfields current frailties, are expected to progress.
The value of Cillian O’Connor was never more obvious than in Ballintubber’s recent draw with Davitts. The Mayo star was called from the bench in the final minutes to salvage sinking hopes. He was barely on the field when the net bulged and Ballintubber had found a way back.
Back, too, in their side after his marriage was Alan Dillon, ardent as ever and impressive with every touch. At home to Kiltane on Saturday the old hunger for a return to the top will surely emerge.
Mitchels stock has soared these past few years, and in the light of their two victories in the league competition for championship places is hot.
In their last outing against Garrymore seven of their county final stalwarts – Donie Newcombe, Ger McDonagh, Eoghan O’Reilly, Barry Moran, Niall Lydon, Fergal Durkan and Cian Costello – were off duty; in their places seven eager aspirants all playing well enough to be nibbling at the heels of the elders.
Ger McDonagh picked up a strain in the warm-up for that game. Versatile, solid and dependable Ray O’Malley stood in for him at full back. Joint bosses Declan O’Reilly and Declan Shaw will be hoping to have McDonagh back in shape for Saturday’s clash with Crossmolina.
Having played only two of the three rounds it’s a bit early for final predictions, but there is about the Mitchels this year a determination to do what no Mitchels’ team has done in over 60 years – record three senior titles in a row. That’s their motivation and Crossmolina are unlikely to get in their way on Saturday evening.
Westport face a tough nut in Garrymore. Lee Keegan will be a marked man, but as they have already shown at national level, the young intermediate champs lack no sense of confidence or courage. It will be a tight one with just a kick of a ball between them.
Expect a cracker from Ballina and Ballinrobe at Flanagan Park on Sunday. Once the powerhouse of Mayo football the Stephenites have been struggling of late. They will still travel as favourites. But beware, Ballinrobe is stirring.
Mayo minors bow out with a whimper
MAYO bade adieu to under-18 minor football with a humiliating defeat to Galway at MacHale Park on Sunday. Next season minor age is confined to those under 17, and under-21 football to those under 20, in a revolutionary move to (among other things) reduce the pressure on players sitting their Leaving Cert examinations.
The draw for this year’s championship ordained that the province’s two underage football strongholds clashed in the first round of the competition, forcing the losers out of the competition before the summer season commenced.
So Mayo bite the dust. And on this performance you would scarcely have classed them as a football stronghold, so inadequate were they in leadership, heart and technical ability.
It was not the Mayo promised in the recent minor league, not the Mayo that drew supporters to what they believed would be a stern and close encounter between prospective Connacht champions.
Not a bit of it. Once Martin Kerrigan found a way in from the left wing to stick the ball in the net, Galway not only unlocked the Mayo defence but also found a way into unprepared minds.
Worse was to come when midfielder Daniel Kenny – who had moved into the forward line – grabbed two further goals, leaving Mayo trailing by nine points at the interval, and with more than a mountain to climb against the wind in the second half.
For some unexplained reason, there was no fight in Mayo. Their attempts to pass the ball were too often intercepted; too often they were dispossessed by the tenacious Galway men; and too often instead of attacking the ball they stood back waiting in vain for it to reach them.
No sign of what was to come was evident in the opening minutes when Mayo swept into the attack, missed a goal chance or two but looked ready and capable of matching anything Galway produced.
That was until the play switched to the other end and Galway’s firepower commenced to set the scene for the rest of the hour. Mayo had some good individual players but without a semblance of a plan, and without leadership they were devoid of heart and, simply, collapsed.