League hints at very open championship

FOUR rounds of the Senior Leagues have been played at this stage and less than a month before the championship first round, we can form a decent judgement of where teams are at.

This year’s senior championship has been flagged as having the potential to be one of the most open in years. Defending champions Ballaghaderreen, finalists of the last two years Charlestown, an old but still able Crossmolina and young coming teams like Knockmore, Claremorris, Ballintubber, Breaffy and Castlebar would have had ambitions at the start of the year.

Five of the above are in Division 1A and then Ballintubber, Castlebar and Claremorris are in 1B. (League tables for those two divisions are linked at the bottom of this review).

Ballaghaderreen have had a decent, if far from spectacular, start. They had a free weekend last weekend but have two wins from three games, Crossmolina defeating them two weeks ago in a game which reminded everyone that Cross’ aren’t ready to fade into the sunset just yet.

John Maughan is back in charge and he has an astute assistant in former Mayo minor selector Stephen Rochford, who has retired from senior football this year. Mac Danger is as good a club forward in the county and while they might not have a plethora of county standard players coming through, they do have very reliable club players.

We count seven players who have played senior for Mayo who started for Cross’ on Saturday last and then add in top level club players like Henry McLoughlin, Sean Kelly and Cathal Carolan and you being to get the picture.

They could be the team to watch, despite John Maughan’s attempt at cute-hoorism when he declared them as the eighth best team in the county.

Other contenders? Well Charlestown have been knocking at the door recently in a bid to add to their 2001 success and, speaking of Crossmolina, Charlestown crossed the Deel last Saturday and fled with two league points as their bounty.

The scoreline of 3-3 to 0-9 has the look of a smash and grab but when you look at the Charlestown team and note the absentees. No Dermot Higgins, no Sean Lenehan, no Ginger Tiernan, no Enda Casey, no David Caffrey. Smash and grab or not that’s some result to get below in Cross’ with those missing.

Knockmore and Breaffy faced off on Saturday evening and it looked like two teams going in opposite directions. Knockmore are a young team – by my reckoning the team that started against Breaffy featured Damien Munnelly – only aged 24 – as the fourth oldest behind John Brogan, Declan Sweeney and Kevin O’Neill.

OLDEN BOY: Only 24, Damien Munnelly is among the Knockmore veterans!

OLDEN BOY: Only 24, Damien Munnelly is among the Knockmore veterans!

The last named has, considering the age profile, been a super acquisition. He kicked seven points on his return in a 0-13 to 1-8 win. Knockmore could take watching but they have to negotiate a group where local foes Crossmolina and Ballina are situated. The fourth team, Ballinrobe, are not to be factored out of the reckoning either. They may not have been mentioned as possible contenders at the start of the  season but they do sit atop the Division 1A league, Kilmaine man Norman O’Brien clearly doing well in his new job.

Breaffy are not having an ideal start to 2009. Four defeats have been against Ballina, Shrule, Moy Davitts and Knockmore and while Aidan O’Shea was suspended on Saturday, their form will worry them. Can they turn it around? Hard to know but they will have a tough group to negotiate too with Ballagh’, Shrule and Burrishoole, particularly away to Ballagh’ first time round.

And then there’s the three Division 1B teams. Castlebar, Ballintubber and Claremorris will all take watching. The latter two have won all of their games thus far – Ballintubber with four from four and Claremorris with three from three – and both have beaten Mitchels.

Ballintubber came closer than anyone to toppling Ballaghaderreen last year – taking the eventual champions to a replay, one which Ballagh’ were extremely fortunate to arrive at – and James Horan will be priming his side for a serious shot at the county title this year.

They’ve a good underage set-up which is feeding nicely into their senior set-up. Established senior players like Paul and Tom Earley, Gary and Alan Dillon are being supplemented nicely by the likes of Michael Nestor, Ruaidhri O’Connor, Jason Gibbons, Dean Gavin, Padraig O’Connor and Damien Coleman – all 23 or younger.

They’re going about it the right way so far this year with four solid wins and will be confident they can come out of their group where Claremorris, Moy Davitts and Kiltane are based. Claremorris will feel that way too. They reached the semi-final last year – arguably they were the team of the year – and, like Ballintubber, are very ambitious. But they could do well to take nothing for granted from either Moy Davitts or Kiltane, two championship hardended teams.

And Mitchels? Well their win over Aghamore was their first of the league, after losing to Ballintubber and Claremorris by seven and ten points respectively. But no better men than Peter Ford and Tommy O’Malley to steer the ship back on course and new ‘signing’ Pat Kelly was a key man in their win on Saturday.

SCORING POWER: Neil Douglas will be expected to pick up much of the scoring slack for Mitchels.

SCORING POWER: Neil Douglas will be expected to pick up much of the scoring slack for Mitchels.

The former Kilmaine player chipped in with three points from centre-half forward and Mitchels definitely have the raw talent – Tom Cunniffe, Barry Moran, Kelly, Neil Douglas, Richie and Alan Feeney – to compete with most teams. Scores will remain their Achilles heel though.

We will focus on the other senior teams prior to championship and also do an extensive preview for the Intermediate but for now we’ve focused on serious contenders for the Moclair Cup. Where’s our money going? We can’t completely dismiss any of the eight contenders we’ve mentioned, except perhaps Breaffy, but we do think it’ll be a year for a surprise and wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the three Division 1B teams surprise everyone. For now we’ll plump for Ballintubber but we’re not putting the mortgage on that one by any means!

But it would be great to see a breakthrough team triumph. Ballagh’ were that last year – only the second from outside the North Mayo axis of Cross’, Ballina and Knockmore to win since 1995.

Division 1A Table and Results

Division 1B Table and Results

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