I’ve said it before but it merits saying it again – this is the best Mayo football Championship in ages.
Two local battles played out at an eerily empty MacHale Park were given national treatment this evening, with both games broadcast live on RTÉ2. Two cracking matches they were too.
In the evening’s opening Moclair Cup quarter-final clash, the spoils went to Ray Dempsey’s brave and gutsy young Knockmore side. They squared up confidently to back-to-back county champions Ballintubber and pushed the pace all the way in this lively encounter.
The first danger sign for the Tubbermen came when Darren McHale grabbed Knockmore’s first goal, the centre-forward finishing confidently after being fed superbly by Aidan Orme. That goal came just after the twenty-minute mark and Knockmore led by a single point at half-time.
The champions drew first blood after the break to draw level. But it was a game in which they’d never lead and the North Mayo lads – now with the fresh breeze at their backs – soon hit back, points from Aidan Orme and Peter Naughton edging them two in front.
Ballintubber suffered a significant setback when Diarmuid O’Connor landed awkwardly as he rose to intercept a ball being played inside as Knockmore broke rapidly from the back. Diarmuid had been muted enough up until then and, although he battled on after the incident, he was unable to have any impact on the game at all after that.
Just before the second water break Darren McHale bagged his second goal for the challengers. Bearing down rapidly on goal, he took advantage of the defender running across the unsighted ‘keeper to plant the ball past Brendan Walsh to the net.
There was no way back for the treble-chasing champions from there. All Knockmore had to do was keep the scoreboard ticking over, which they did via points from Kevin McLoughlin, Darren McHale, Peter Naughton (from a mark) and Aidan Orme. They were worthy 2-11 to 0-12 winners at the finish.
The evening’s second match was the proverbial game of two halves. A glut of goals early on – three of them scored by a confident Ballaghaderreen team – had Breaffy on the ropes and it looked for a time then that this game might run away from then.
Cian Hanley was playing a stormer for Ballagh’ in this period but he then picked up two rather harsh yellow cards in fairly quick succession. While this blow didn’t affect them straight away, having to play with fourteen men for more than 40 minutes was a burden Ballagh’ simply weren’t able to carry.
They still went in at the break four to the good and then stretched that lead to five on the resumption. That point, from a Kuba Callaghan free, turned out to be their only score of an increasingly lopsided second half, as Breaffy first reeled them in and then proceeded to go to town on the scoreboard.
Using the extra man to double-team Andy Moran inside, Breaffy were able to blunt the effectiveness of the 2017 Footballer of the Year. Andy had been on fire in the first half, scoring his team’s first goal and having a hand in the other two as he used all his experience and guile to great effect. Bottled up inside after the break, though, Andy found it increasingly hard to get on the ball at all and Ballagh’s inventiveness in attack withered on the vine.
Breaffy laboured for a good while in that second half, though, before they finally got going. Matthew Ruane had had a quiet first half but when he stormed forward to claim Breaffy’s second goal of the evening coming up to the water break, it had the feel of a breakthrough score for them. It was.
From then to the end, the Breaffy lads went on the rampage. After Matty’s goal they piled on a further 2-7 without reply to win by a massive thirteen points. That was rough justice on Ballaghaderreen who naturally will think back on Cian Hanley’s unlucky dismissal as a huge turning point in this contest.
So out go champions Ballintubber and last year’s beaten finalists Ballaghaderreen, with Knockmore and Breaffy marching on to next weekend’s semi-finals. Knockmore will face the winners of tomorrow’s quarter-final between Ballina Stephenites and Aghamore while Breaffy are set to meet whoever prevails from Westport’s meeting with The Neale. Two rematches of closely fought group games could well be on the cards in next week’s penultimate round.
Elsewhere today, Garrymore secured their Senior status for next year by getting the better of Bohola Moy Davitts in the first relegation semi-final. They won that one by 2-13 to 1-9. Claremorris play Charlestown in the second relegation semi tomorrow.
In the Intermediate Championship today Balla came out on top in their derby clash with Mayo Gaels. This was a closely fought contest, in which Balla struck for a late decisive goal to seal a 1-12 to 0-10 win.
In the day’s other IFC qurter-final Hollymount/Carramore crushed Bonniconlon by 4-13 to 0-8, while Ballyhaunis were far too strong for Islandeady in the relegation play-off semi-final. They won that one by 0-19 to 0-6.
Finally, in the JFC there were quarter-final wins today for Kilmeena, who beat Achill by 1-11 to 1-7, and Shrule/Glencorrib, who saw off Killala by 0-14 to 1-8.