There’s a raft of club championship action on this weekend and I’m delighted to welcome back into the guest slot Edwin McGreal who takes a look at what’s on offer. In this, the first of two previews, Ed assesses the weekend’s Junior and Intermediate semi-finals and tomorrow he’ll be back with his take on the Senior action.
There are so many directions I could go in when it comes to looking at the club championship for this erstwhile blog but with a fantastic weekend of action ahead of us, I’m going to focus on the football ahead of us. Other reflections can wait.
As I write, the three traditional championships (Senior, Intermediate and Junior) are at the semi-final stage and all six of those games will go ahead this weekend. We’re going to preview the Junior and Intermediate today and the Senior tomorrow. We also have a look at the newly established County Junior B championship.
Junior A Championship
Try calling a winner in this championship! Most people were backing an Islandeady v Ardnaree final before last week’s semi-finals with Islandeady strong favourites to win it out. But the results last week have put a very different slant on things.
Two draws leaves the Junior Championship wide open and calling it is mired with difficulty but we’ll give it a go.
I was at both semi-finals and certainly the second semi-final – The Neale v Islandeady – appeared to have the higher quality of football in it but it would be foolish to dismiss the credentials of either Lahardane or Ardnaree based on their 0-6 apiece draw.
That game in Knockmore was no classic but both teams showed enough flashes of potential to warrant plenty of consideration. Lahardane often would kowtow to Ardnaree teams traditionally and there was an element of this in the first half and they trailed the Moysiders by 0-4 to 0-0 at the break.
But the Nephin men came out of themselves in the second half and fine displays from forwards Shane Loftus and Mark Noone, allied to the impressive free-taking of Cormac Rowland gave them a deserved draw. Lahardane will sweat on the fitness this week of inspirational captain and full-back Barry Leonard and centre-half back Shane Hargreaves. Those two will be crucial to their hopes.
Ardnaree, for their part, might feel they pressed the self-destruct button a little in the second half. There can be no arguing that in players like former Mayo minor defender Michael Walsh, midfielder Ian Clarke and forwards Ronan Doherty, Chris Walsh and Eoin McCormack, they have real talents. Of those though only McCormack imposed a real influence on last weekend’s game. He was, in fact, their only scorer. Ardnaree have the ability to progress but Lahardane’s belief will have swelled after their second half comeback. Don’t rule out another draw but we’re going to give a hesitant nod to Ardnaree but they need to hit top gear this time around.
Islandeady have been knocking at the door in Junior for some time now. They were favourites to win the 2007 final but Achill trumped them that day and they have been perennial favourites since. Their ability is clear to see. They are the only Junior team in Division 1B of the league (this being their second year there), with The Neale towards the bottom of 1C and Lahardane and Ardnaree in 1D. Their potential was further evidenced when nine Islandeady men started on the West Mayo team which nearly qualified from the Senior Championship last year but the West Mayo men haven’t been able to get out of Junior.
They lost last year’s final to rivals Parke and very nearly came unstuck against The Neale last Sunday. Islandeady looked in control in the first half but the introduction of The Neale’s talisman Eoin Hughes and young Peter Cosgrove at half-time sparked The Neale into life and a Niall Walsh goal with ten minutes to go left the south men three points clear and Islandeady in serious trouble.
Credit to them, they made up the ground and Danny McGowan kicked a fine equaliser in injury time.
Who will win the replay? Well it’s my opinion that if Islandeady play like they can for sixty minutes there is no team in the Junior grade that can live with them but they have a capacity to let teams back into games. The Neale took full advantage of that on Sunday and they have players in Donal Hughes, Pat Casey, Eoin Hughes, Niall Walsh, Simon Ryan, Seán and Peter Cosgrave and David Morrin, among others, who deserve a platform beyond Junior football.
But, as Islandeady know to their cost, there is the harsh – and unfair in my view – reality that only one team will go up from Junior. I’m loathe to be too confident about Islandeady but they do have the greater balance. Peter Collins is a fine midfielder, Vinny Feeney, Finbar O’Meara and Martin Feeney, if fit, are talented forwards. Shane Heraty, Niall McCormack and Cormac Gordon are accomplished defenders and Islandeady are led by their inspirational captain, centre-half back Ollie Feeney. If they can take the battle to The Neale from the start and throughout, they’ll win. But, as they’ve shown in the Junior Championship in previous years, that can be easier said than done.
Ardnaree v Lahardane, Sunday at 12 in Knockmore
Islandeady v The Neale, Sunday at 12 in McHale Park
If the form lines are to be believed, then the Intermediate Championship is all set for a Davitts v Burrishoole finals. These two sides have had the look of finalists from an early stage but Parke and Ballyhaunis might have plenty to say about that yet.
Last year Burrishoole were on an even firmer march to the title but were ambushed in the final by Tourmakeady. Colm McManamon’s men will have learned the lessons from that campaign but there is a feeling that they are not playing as well this year.
Of course, down Newport way they’d be delighted if their team stays playing badly and winning up until the Sweeney Cup might sit in captain Shane McDermott’s hands but, without a doubt, Colm Mac will be worried about the form of his team in the two games they required to advance past Hollymount/Carramore in the quarter-finals.
The newly amalgamated side might have deserved to win both days but didn’t. Will that escape liberate Burrishoole or will the performances leave questions unanswered in their heads?
The aforementioned McDermott is an injury doubt as is cerebral forward Adrian McManamon (one of four of the Mac clan in the starting team) but Burrishoole still have a strong look to them. David Keane returns from suspension to full-forward while a certain Jason Doherty and Enda McManamon are lethal corner-forwards. That’s a serious looking forward line and James Moran, who was in with Mayo earlier this year, is a serious man around the middle.
Further back Seán McManamon and Micheál Joyce form a strong spine in defence but Burris’ are likely to be missing former Mayo man Liam O’Malley who has been plagued with injury this year.
And what of Ballyhaunis? Well this week’s Mayo News carries an interview with a former Mayo man manning the goalkeeper spot for Frank Browne’s men. Fergal Kelly was coaxed out of retirement and they have Keith Higgins, John Prenty Jnr, Paul Prenty, the evergreen Declan Doyle, Christy McCrudden and Kevin Gallagher among their serious operators.
Kelly this week said that it is hard to see past Burrishoole and while he’s probably playing the poor mouth there, I’d tend to agree with him.
The other semi-final is more clear-cut according to Ballindine-based bookie John Stagg. He has Davitts, who are based in the village where he earns a crust, as 1/3 to beat Parke and as 5/4 favourites for the Intermediate outright.
A bit like Islandeady at Junior level, Davitts have been perennial Intermediate contenders for some years without ever making the breakthrough. I can’t recall, offhand, when they last made it to the final. But this year there seems to be a good vibe on border side, under the direction of former Galway selector Pete Warren.
Crucially, their three key men – Colm Boyle, Ronan McNamara and Michael Conroy – are all fit and in form. When that’s the case in the case of any of the individual cases, they are a joy to watch and definitely look county standard. When all three hit form together, Davitts look formidable.
They could regret it if they fall into the trap of taking their eye off Parke though. Only up from Junior they may be but Frank McHale’s team can be dangerous when they click and hit form. They weren’t doing that earlier in the year – last year’s Junior campaign didn’t end until January in Manchester and the fatigue was clear to be seen. But their last Intermediate group game, a win over Moy Davitts, appeared to galvanise them and they saw through Cill Chomain despite having to play without corner-back Paul Moran for over a half after he was sent off.
Moran’s loss is crucial as he’d Parke’s best man to try to keep the shackles on Conroy and I fear that might be a loss they won’t cope without. Still, though, Tom Walsh at centre-back is playing as well as ever, Declan Neary would stand back from the challenge of marking Ronan McNamara at midfield and forwards like ex-Mayo and Belmullet man Stephen Carolan, Richie O’Boyle, Niall Dunne, Darren Durkan, Dwayne Flynn and Seánie McHale – five former Mayo minors – know where the posts are. But Davitts have the look of champions.
Ballyhaunis v Burrishoole, Saturday at 3pm in McHale Park
Davitts v Parke, Sunday at 2pm in McHale Park
Junior B Championship
This has the potential to be a very successful grade for some B teams and a few of the Junior clubs who struggle to be competitive at Junior A. We should, in theory, see a situation where forty-point defeats are no longer prevalent at Junior A group stage. Unfortunately this didn’t happen this year as only ‘B’ and ‘C’ (Crossmolina, take a bow) teams took part. The reluctance on some exclusive Junior clubs to play in the grade is understandable as they were informed that they would lose convention voting rights if they played Junior B. They were, we believe, told this in error and will be free to compete at Junior B next year if they wish.
For clubs who are usually way off the mark in Junior A and for similarly situated B and C teams, the Junior B offers a meaningful shot at silverware and ought to streamline the Junior A championship as well.
This year’s Junior B championship is at the final stage where Ballaghaderreen B and Claremorris B go head to head after wins over Parke B and Garrymore B respectively last weekend. Both, interestingly, came from the same group. Ballaghaderreen B won their group game 1-11 to 2-6 and indications are the final will be a close affair too. I have only seen Ballaghaderreen B play twice this year and haven’t seen Claremorris B play at all so a definite prediction is hard to make. There’s a legend set to line out in the final, though, with former Mayo full-back Kevin Cahill bringing his invaluable experience to the number 3 jersey for Ballagh’.