Moving day in the club championship

DAY three of a golf major is usually referred to as ‘moving day’. It’s the day the wheat becomes separated from the chaff and by the close of play you can normally narrow to a handful of players who is going to win it out.

Its very similar with the club championship and round 2 of the group stages. Much will be decided this weekend. Some teams will see their year as good as over, others will be able to plan for the quarter finals and then there’ll be a few teams on tentherhooks waiting for the final round.

ON CLOUD NINE: John Maughan after the 1999 Connacht final. He'll be feted nearly as well in Crossmolina if he can bring them into Ballina and back out the road with a victory.

ON CLOUD NINE: John Maughan after the 1999 Connacht final. He'll be feted nearly as well in Crossmolina if he can bring them into Ballina and back out the road with a victory.

After two rounds of the championship we’ll know a lot more answers to questions which the first round left us.

Can Ballina, to borrow another golf phrase, continue to underline that the league is for show and the championship is for dough? Most people wrote them off as contenders for this year but a first round victory against an in-form team like Ballinrobe leaves them capable of causing an upset against Crossmolina? Can Liam McHale get the better of John Maughan in the battle of the tanned, short wearing managers?

And on what paths with  Ballintubber and Claremorris go. Ballintubber gave them one hell of a hiding in the first round to the extent that many pencilled them in as dark horses (always remember TIALTNGO went for them before the Claremorris game!) but they now have to live with a certain burden of expectation going into a home clash with Moy Davitts. Can they be consistently good?

And can Claremorris travel to what is traditionally one of the most difficult venues in the county – Kiltane – and get their season back on track with a victory?

And what of Breaffy and Shrule/Glencorrib in what could be the game of the weekend? Can Breaffy turn a dire season around or can Shrule finally, finally emerge from the group stages after losing out on scoring difference for the last four years?

And then there’s the young guns of Castlebar and Aghamore. After losing to Charlestown first time out Mitchels have no choice but to win this game. Aghamore have a win under their belts already so it is D-Day for Peter Ford and Castlebar.

We’ll go through the groups one by one and put our heads on the block and try to call the games, also showing the odds that one Mayo Bookie, Stagg’s in Ballindine, have on the games.

Group 1 sees Garrymore host Charlestown and Aghamore travel to Castlebar. Garry’ are missing Enda Varley so its impossible to see how they might overcome Charlestown. Garry’ are one them for whom the phrase ‘write them off at your peril’ seems to have been invented but 1/7 about Charlestown seems right and it will not be a case of whether they will win or not, but by how much.

Castlebar v Aghamore is not as clear-cut but it is still hard to see Mitchels not winning. Aghamore were dealt a crippling blow the the loss of Cathal Freeman to a bad leg break last weekend and that could well have a demoralising effect on the east Mayo men.

Full-forward Alan Freeman is the man to watch for Aghamore but, crucially, Alan Feeney is flying at full-back for the Mitchels and they should have, for once, enough firepower with the likes of Aidan Walsh and Neil Douglas serious additions in this department.

Group 2 sees a game north Mayo have been looking forward to since the draw was made. Crossmolina and Ballina have won ten county titles between them since 1994 and while many analysts will say both are past their best, it would be a fool that would completely dismiss the title chances of both.

Ballina looked the more vulnerable earlier this year with patchy league performances. But there’s nothing new in that – they always prime themselves for championship and see league almost as a distraction.

Enda Devenney is back in the squad after a stint in Sligon and add in county starts Harte, McGarrity and Cafferkey and you see there is plenty of strength. How younger players like Stephen McCarron, Pat Crowe and Peter Rouse manage in this one will have a big bearing. The loss of many players in the winter was always going to have an impact more on the fringes of the team than the spine and it is these youngsters who have been asked to fill in for the likes of Shane Melia, Stephen Hughes and Martin Wynne.

THE MAC VERSUS THE CAFF: If Ciaran McDonald is fit to line out on Sunday, he'll likely line out against Mayo's Ger Cafferkey in what can be a real battle.

THE MAC VERSUS THE CAFF: If Ciaran McDonald is fit to line out on Sunday, he'll likely line out against Mayo's Ger Cafferkey in what can be a real battle.

Crossmolina were moving very well by all acounts in a very comfortable 4-16 to 1-9 win over Burrishoole on Sunday last. They had a full strength team out with one exception – Mr McDonald. We don’t know if he’ll be fit for Sunday but if he is we’ll relish seeing how the battle between he and Ger Cafferkey goes.

Crossmolina to shade it but the 6/4 about Ballina from Stagg’s could yet be the bet of the weekend.

In the other game in this group Knockmore take on Ballinrobe. The ‘Robe knew they needed to beat Ballina in their only home game first time out if they were to stand a decent chance in this group and defeat there leaves their season in the balance.

A heavy defeat to Shrule last weekend won’t help their confidence and, with Kevin O’Neill back after having his suspension overturned, Knockmore look a sure thing. 3/10 is, I believe, decent value.

It is to Group 3 where I anticipate a humdinger. Breaffy host Shrule in a real mouth-watering contest. Breaffy have had a terrible year with defeats in all of their league games and a hammering in the first round of the championship away to Ballagh’.

Can they find some of the form of last year, when they won the league? Last week’s narrow league defeat to Ballagh’ might point at a slight reversal in form but Shrule will be on a mission too. Scoring difference has cost them the last few years but a win here and they’re as good as in the semi-finals.

Can Breaffy keep Conor Mort’ and Mark Ronaldson quiet? Can Marty McNicholas and Alan Durcan link well with Mayo star Aidan O’Shea? If Breaffy can provide positive answers to those questions they’ve a right chance. We think 7/4 is a big price but we’re still gonna go with Shrule’s form to win the day.

The other game in the group is a formality. Even though it might be a long trip from the Roscommon border to Newport, Ballagh’ will easily account for Burrishoole.

And onto Section D. Kiltane host Claremorris. In the past teams have found it harder to escape from fortress Bangor with a win than Frodo Baggins escaping from Mordor! But, like the once powerful Samhran, Kiltane are not the force of old. A younger team, they don’t have the type of player anymore about whom the phrase ‘man and/or ball’ was made.

And that might suit Claremorris because the last thing they need after a trimming from Ballintubber is a battle in Bangor. As long a trip as it is, the journey home for Niall Heffernan’s men should be a satisfying one.

And what of Claremorris’ conquerors? Ballintubber are my tip for the title from a long way out. They showed what they were capable of in the first round with a stunning display against Claremorris. They have since lost Ruaidhri O’Connor and Michael Nestor so that should ask questions of their panel strength.

KEY MAN: Ballintubber's Alan Dillon.

KEY MAN: Ballintubber's Alan Dillon.

Alan Dillon remains, naturally, their main man but Jason Gibbons gave a virtueoso display in Claremorris while the ablity of Damien McGing, Damien Coleman and Padraig O’Connor is not in doubt. This really represents a test of their mental ability – can they stay as consistently good?

Moy Davitts are going to be the men asking the questions. My Ballina contacts tell me there was a plentiful supply of Ballintubber men at the league clash between Moy Davitts and Ballina last weekend and Ballintubber spies will have been impressed with the resilience of the Moy men in coming from eight points down. They certainly won’t give up without a fight, unlike Claremorris.

The Mulderrig brothers James and Tomas are serious operators while Conor Jordan has potential. They will ask a few questions of James Horan’s men but, at 4/9, Ballintubber are my bet of the weekend.

So we’ve went for Charlestown, Castlebar, Crossmolina, Knockmore, Ballaghaderreen, Shrule/Glencorrib, Claremorris and Ballintubber. And they’ll be close enough to the eight quarter-finalists with only Ballina having the potential to upset that when they travel to Knockmore in the final round.

We’ll cast our eye over the Intermediate games shortly.

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