A CLASSIC AMBUSH Ballintubber’s Jason Gibbons is surrounded by Knockmore’s Kieran Langan, Aidan Orme and Shane McHale during last Saturday evening’s Mayo SFC quarter-final at MacHale Park, Castlebar. Pic: Michael Donnelly
THERE’S a real sense of Déja vu ahead of next weekend’s two blockbuster Mayo senior club football championship semi-finals as two kingpins in north Mayo, along with two in west Mayo, will go to war for the second time in this campaign.
This time, however, there’s no safety net. It’s winner-takes-all championship football with a place in the County Final up for grabs and all the bragging rights that go with it.
The whispers about a reawakening of two of north Mayo’s sleeping giants have now turned to statements, none bigger than Ray Dempsey’s Knockmore knocking out the county champions Ballintubber in last Saturday evening’s quarter-final.
A bigger statement will be if they can beat their old rivals next Sunday, but the Ballina Stephenites and their inspirational centre-back and captain Padraig O’Hora are playing with a certain swagger.
No doubt Knockmore will be replaying O’Hora’s infamous comments about Ballina ‘beating everyone they play’ on Mayo GAA TV again this week.
Meanwhile, the west Mayo derby between Westport and Breaffy on Saturday evening will see Lee Keegan and Aidan O’Shea lock horns for a second time.
History-chasing Breaffy keen to prove their narrow home defeat to the Covies in the group stages was a minor blip, with Westport determined to show it was no flash-in-the-pan.
It’s going to be some weekend of action in MacHale Park and hopefully all the talent on show is bound to make up somewhat for the lack of people in the stands.
Breaffy v Westport
Saturday, September 5
MacHale Park at 7.15pm
THE most high-profile match-up all day long will surely be Lee Keegan on Aidan O’Shea, but the winning and losing of this game will be how the respective management teams line up the rest of their players.
Westport’s young playmaker Mark Moran looks likely to face Breaffy stopper Seamus O’Shea, while the returning Dylan Cannon may be tasked with trying to tie down the other Moran brother, Colm, who hit six points from play against The Neale.
Kevin Keane’s powerful influence at full-forward for Westport will cause plenty of headaches for Peter Forde and Shane Conway this week, particularly given the fact they lack depth when it comes to big, strong, quality defenders.
Seeing Michael Hall limp off with his ongoing hamstring trouble last weekend only increases their worries, particularly given the fact that plans will also need to be put in place for the likes of Westport attackers Fionn McDonagh and Killian Kilkelly.
However, getting more game time into the legs of Tommy O’Reilly last week will give Breaffy a boost in attack.
At the other end of the field, Westport manager Martin Calvey and his backroom team know that curtailing the influence of Breaffy’s Conor O’Shea and Colm Flynn will be crucial, with the duo contributing 2-8 between them against Ballaghaderreen.
In the middle of the field, the duel between dynamic midfielders (and Mayo team-mates) Eoghan McLaughlin and Mattie Ruane will be another one to watch.
Potential match-ups in this star-studded field could be discussed and debated all day long, but we can’t help but feel that the stronger squad at the disposal of Westport may make up for their lack of experience and should be enough to see them into the County Final.
Ballina v Knockmore
Sunday, September 6
MacHale Park at 3.45pm
THERE will be plenty of stories about the old days and battles between these two fierce rivals retold in north Mayo this week as they get set to rekindle this historic rivalry on the big stage for the first time in years.
While the magnitude of the rivalry between the two clubs never dwindled at a local level in recent seasons, it has been a while since both Knockmore and Ballina Stephenites were considered as serious Moclair Cup contenders.
But their time has come around again and it makes for a mouth-watering semi-final showdown.
Ballina joint managers Enda Gilvarry and Robert McLoughlin will be without their All Star full back Ger Cafferkey whose groin tear suffered in the Michael Walsh League a few weeks back has ruled him out for the season.
But they will have Ciaran Treacy at their disposal after he missed out on their comfortable victory over Aghamore due to a slight knock.
Treacy wasn’t needed last Sunday because a group including Padraig O’Hora, the Regans, Evan and Seán (who aren’t related), Mikey Murray, Simon Leonard and Keith Tighe were all looking sharp and in complete control of the situation.
Ray Dempsey has his young Knockmore side primed and peaking at the perfect time and they’ll now fancy themselves against anyone having beat the county champions last time out.
Aidan Orme and Peter Naughton were up to their old tricks in MacHale Park last Saturday, while Darren McHale’s form is seriously impressive at the moment.
Kevin McLoughlin has been enjoying his deeper role around midfield and centre back, with his pace becoming a massive weapon when breaking out of their solid defensive formation.
Although the Stephenites pipped their neighbours in a group game a few weeks ago, the bookies have Knockmore as slight favourites for next weekend.
But we think the extra firepower in the Ballina ranks can see them into their first County Senior Final since 2007.
VERDICT: BALLINA STEPHENITES