BIG GUNS READY FOR BATTLE Knockmore’s Kevin McLoughlin is pictured with Breaffy’s Aidan O’Shea at a photoshoot ahead of Sunday’s Connacht Gold Mayo Senior Football Championship Final. Pic: Conor McKeown
THERE are so many decisions that Peter Ford, Shane Conway and Ray Dempsey will have to make this week as they put the finishing touches to their respective masterplans as they try to land the elusive Moclair Cup.
But the most obvious decision — and most difficult — is quite frankly the most important: how they curb the influence of Kevin McLoughlin and Aidan O’Shea respectively.
It might seem too easy to pin the hopes of Breaffy and Knockmore on their star county men, but the form displayed by both on the road to the final has proved how instrumental they are to their team’s chances of success.
If you manage to blunt their impact, it will go a long way to getting over the line.
McLoughlin is in the form of his life for Knockmore and has mastered that centre-back-cum sweeper role that Dempsey has deployed him in. His long, surging runs yielded three points from play against Ballina Stephenites and stopping him at source will be crucial if Breaffy are to win their first ever Moclair Cup.
Breaffy’s James Minogue did an impressive man-marking job on Paddy Durcan in the earlier rounds and don’t be surprised to see him tasked with the job again.
Aidan O’Shea is a different type of proposition entirely.
Playing most of his football in recent weeks at full-forward, not even a player with the physical capabilities of Lee Keegan could completely tie him down. He’s winning marks, linking play, scoring points and just generally being a nuisance.
Knockmore’s Shane McHale appears to be the man best matched in the physicality stakes.
Of course, it wouldn’t be completely fair to pin the hopes of both teams on just those two.
Ray Dempsey has done an impressive job in bringing through so many young players on to his Knockmore team and getting them all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Inside forward Aidan Orme looks a real talent, while the undeniable talent of Peter Naughton, scorer of 1-30 this season, is coming to the fore once again. Throw in Kieran King, Conall Dempsey and the Ruttledge brothers, and you see they’re well balanced too.
Peter Ford and Shane Conway must be enjoying seeing Conor O’Shea at the peak of his powers in this campaign, while his brother, Seamus, will be returning for the final having missed the semi-final due to the birth of his first child.
The likes of Tommy O’Reilly and Michael Hall came through the semi-final win over Westport despite carrying injuries and the two-week break should help to heal those knocks.
Liam Irwin’s departure from the panel during the earlier stages of the championship looked like it might be a devastating blow for Breaffy’s chances, but Longford native Colm Flynn has stepped up in his absence.
Knockmore haven’t won a Moclair Cup since 1997; Breaffy have never won one at all.
These sides had a bruising – quite literally – county semi-final in 2016 that Knockmore won after a battle. This could be one of those again.
In such an unprecedented year, and with the likes of Ballintubber and Castlebar Mitchels falling by the wayside much earlier than usual, it’s hard not to think that this year might just belong to Breaffy.
Did you know?
THE Golden Boot race in the Mayo SFC is being led by Knockmore’s Peter Naughton with 1-30 (0-17 from frees). Breaffy’s top scorer is Colm Flynn with 0-29 (0-22 from frees).