Focus on Senior C’ship – Section 2

Continuing in our previews of each group in the senior championship we look at Section 2 – where three north Mayo rivals and Ballinrobe go at each other.

Section 2 – Crossmolina, Knockmore, Ballinrobe, Ballina.

Apparently the gasps in the TF Hotel when this section were audible up around McHale Park. Before last year Knockmore, Ballina and Crossmolina had won an incredible 12 out of the last 13 senior titles. The fact that all three clubs are right on top of each other has meant that the rivalry at the top level in Mayo in the modern day has been a very local one.

THE MASTER AND THE APPRENTICE: Kevin O'Neill's return to Knockmore should benefit Aidan Kilcoyne's own game significantly.

THE MASTER AND THE APPRENTICE: Kevin O'Neill's return to Knockmore should benefit Aidan Kilcoyne's own game significantly.

For all three to be pitted in the one group was incredible. That Ballinrobe were the fourth team was merely an after thought – we’ll return to that later.

But it is only right to look forward to the three big, big local derbies taking place – Crossmolina v Knockmore in Round 1, Ballina v Crossmolina in Round 2 and Knockmore v Ballina in Round 3. At least one of these big three teams has to fall before the quarter-finals arrive.

That none of the three teams are at their peak might lessen the sense of anticipation of those from outside the north Mayo triangle but you’d be a fool if you think they’re talking about anything else in the expanse of territory between Neiphin and the River Moy.

THE MAN: Ciaran McDonald is congratulated by team captain Tom Nallen after picking up the Man of the Match award after Crossmolina defeated Nemo Rangers in the 2001 All-Ireland Club Final.

THE MAN: Ciaran McDonald is congratulated by team captain Tom Nallen after picking up the Man of the Match award after Crossmolina defeated Nemo Rangers in the 2001 All-Ireland Club Final.

Football has defined the lives of so many people in all three areas. Knockmore reached an All-Ireland club final in 1997, losing to a team by the name of Crossmaglen. Ballina lost in 1999 to Crossmaglen but made up for it in 2005 while Crossmolina became the first team from Mayo to win a club All-Ireland in 2001, losing two years later.

That might be some time ago and none of the three are championship favourites – Ballaghaderreen are – but all are still formidable sides.

Crossmolina have an ageing panel but John Maughan isn’t managing them this year to help them ease their way away from the top. It’s a fool that will write them off. James Nallen, Tom Nallen, Brian Benson, Henry McLoughlin, James Cafferty, Cathal Carolan, Joe Keane and a certain Mr McDonald, what’s not to like? They’re not as strong in terms of strength in depth as previous years, due in part to the loss of Ger O’Malley, Paul McGuinness and Stephen Rochford (the last name is helping Maughan out on the line), but at full-strength they’re formidable.

Ballina, like Crossmolina, have lost a lot of their playing personnel. Stephen Hughes, Martin Wynne, Adrian Kelly, Ian O’Dowd and Shane Melia are all out of the country. I haven’t heard Shane Sweeney’s name mentioned this year either. Still four Mayo seniors in the form of David Clarke, Ger Cafferkey, Ronan McGarrity and Pat Harte and top level club players like Ger Brady, Kenny Golden, Eanna Casey and Paul McGarry make Ballina look a good team on paper.

REMEMBER THE DAY: Ballina's 2005 All-Ireland Club Final success will probably be remembered most for the sense of closure it brought to David Brady after so many final defeats. That, and his wild celebrations!

REMEMBER THE DAY: Ballina's 2005 All-Ireland Club Final success will probably be remembered most for the sense of closure it brought to David Brady after so many final defeats. That, and his wild celebrations!

Problem is much of the scoring responsibility will lie with Liam Brady. They don’t have enough scoring options outside of him.

Of the three teams from up north it is Knockmore who have been away from the top for the longest – last county title in 1997, compared to 2006 for Cross’ and ’07 for Ballina but that could stand to them. They’ve had to look to younger players and have therefore managed to get together a team with serious potential.

As said here before Damien Munnelly, at 24, is one of the older players on the team. The return of Kevin O’Neill will add some great leadership while Declan Sweeney will hope to stay injury free  to bolster the spine of the team. Aidan Kilcoyne, Kevin McLoughlin and Brian Gibbons are some of the younger players whom we know about while John Brogan is worthy of mention as one of the best club defenders going.

And then there’s Ballinrobe. An after thought when the draw was made, their standing at the top of Division 1A of the league should change that. So too should their ten point defeat of Ballina recently. It really adds to the intrigue of the group.

They’re a solid, organised team and will fear nothing in taking on Ballina or Knockmore. Crossmolina, whom they seem to have drawn in the last four years in the championship, might be another matter though.

Donal Vaughan is a key man while James O’Malley shot the lights out from wing-back last weekend against Breaffy. Sean Burke, Peter Staunton and Micheál Keane are three men whom the scoring burden will fall to while Seán Grimes will be a pivotal man around the middle.

So who will progress? Well we’ll get the easy one out of the way – Crossmolina to top the group, despite  the local battles ahead of them. They’re at home to Knockmore in round 1 and that’s really going to be their trickiest game.

They should  have too much for Ballina in Ballina in round 2 and qualification should be assured ahead of their final clash against Ballinrobe, which we think Cross’ will win in any case.

But then it gets more difficult. One from Ballinrobe, Knockmore and Ballina. Well we just don’t like the look of Ballina. Ballinrobe are at home to them in round 1 and we reckon they’ll get over that hurdle which sets up the group’s key game in round 2. Knockmore at home to Ballinrobe. The winner will be favourite to advance, the loser could be in serious trouble.

We’ll go for Knockmore to triumph. Just.

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