MacHale Park is the destination tomorrow evening, with the Sweeney and Moclair Cups the prizes on offer as this year’s Intermediate and Senior club football championships come to a conclusion. A cracking night of football is in prospect under the lights in Castlebar then.
It’s been a while since either Belmullet or Burrishoole got their hands on a county title. Burrishoole came agonisingly close to capturing the Intermediate crown three years in a row at the start of the current decade but each time – in 2010, 2011 and 2012 – they lost out in the decider. You have to go back as far as 1992 for their most recent IFC victory.
Belmullet are waiting even longer to savour county title success. Their last Intermediate championship win was way back in 1974 but they head into tomorrow evening’s title decider as warm favourites to prevail.
Belmullet had a small wobble coming through the group stages in this year’s championship. They beat Mayo Gaels by 3-15 to 1-15 in their first Group 1 outing back in April but then played out a rather bizarre 4-8 to 0-20 draw against Ballyhaunis in the second round in late August. That meant the Erris men needed a result against Kiltimagh in the final round to be certain of advancement and they got it too, winning by 1-14 to 2-8 to top the group.
Belmullet’s potential to go all the way in this competition was then signalled when they crushed Swinford by 5-16 to 1-5 in the quarter-final. The semi-finals saw them paired once again with their group opponents Kiltimagh and that match a fortnight ago was a real rip-roaring contest, from which Belmullet emerged with a narrow 2-11 to 2-9 win.
Burrishoole, meanwhile, came through Group 2 without any fuss. Wins over Bonniconlon (2-12 to 0-10), Islandeady (1-12 to 1-9) and Swinford (1-17 to 0-12) saw them top the group with a 100% record. They then had ten points to spare over Ballinrobe in the quarters, winning that one by 1-15 to 1-5. They beat The Neale by 1-15 to 0-14 in the semi-final two weeks ago.
Belmullet are the 4/7 favourites to win tomorrow. From what I’ve seen of both teams this year I’d agree that it’s a game Belmullet should win, though Burrishoole’s untroubled progression to the final leaves them well poised to pull off an upset. Belmullet by two or three I’d reckon.
The main event features a novel pairing between Ballintubber and Breaffy. Having dethroned the three-in-a-row champions in last weekend’s semi-final replay, Ballintubber will now be aiming to capture the Moclair Cup for the the fourth time in their history, having done so for the first time as recently as 2010. Indeed, should they win tomorrow night they’ll equal Castlebar Mitchels’ achievement of four Senior county titles this decade.
Breaffy, by contrast, are still looking for their first ever county championship success at Senior level. They’ve been there or thereabouts frequently enough of late, though, losing finals to Castlebar in 2013 (by 1-11 to 0-8) and again in 2015 (by 4-10 to 0-9).
The two clubs were bracketed together in Group 4 of this year’s championship, along with Kiltane and Davitts. Ballintubber edged the group honours on points difference, with the group encounter between tomorrow night’s finalists ending in stalemate.
In the first round of group matches Ballintubber accounted for Davitts by 1-13 to 1-9 while Breaffy got the better of Kiltane on a scoreline of 1-15 to 1-12. Their Round 2 meeting – in what would turn out to be a dress rehearsal of tomorrow night’s title decider – ended in a 1-10 to 0-13 draw. This meant that whichever of them found the target most often in their respective final round tie would win the group. Breaffy handed out a 0-17 to 0-5 beating to Davitts in their final group game but the Tubbermen thumped Kiltane by 2-18 to 0-5 and that was more than enough to see them top the group on points difference.
Tomorrow evening’s opponents enjoyed contrasting wins in the quarters. Breaffy, down to fourteen men, were forced to hang on for dear life against a youthful resurgent Westport, a booming late, long-range free from Robbie Hennelly seeing them home by 0-11 to 0-10. Ballintubber, by contrast, quelled Moy Davitts’ challenge early on, two first half goals paving the way for a facile 2-17 to 0-11 success.
There was nothing easy for the Tubbermen in the semis, though, as they had to endure a titanic two-match series against Castlebar Mitchels, both games going to extra-time, before they finally emerged as one-point victors. On both days, Ballintubber had to come with a late surge to force the game into extra-time and in the drawn match they needed another burst to level it at 1-12 apiece. In the replay they finally wriggled clear of the champions in extra-time, winning by 0-16 to 0-15.
Breaffy had it far easier in their semi, beating Ballaghaderreen by 1-13 to 1-10. A late Ballagh’ goal made this game a lot closer at the finish than it was for much of the hour but, in reality, Breaffy always looked the likely winners.
The bookies are narrowly in Ballintubber’s camp tomorrow night, offering them at 4/5 while Breaffy are available at 11/8. To be honest, it’s hard to separate them. Will the momentum Ballintubber got from dethroning Mitchels carry them on to success? Or will the extra week’s rest stand to Breaffy? It’s difficult to know but I fancy Ballintubber to squeeze home, though there’s likely to be very little in it.
By the way, if you haven’t yet listened to club finals preview episode of the Mayo News football podcast you can do so using the SoundCloud player just below. It really is rather good.
Also if you can’t make it to MacHale Park tomorrow night but still want to see the two title deciders, they’re being streamed live on Mayo GAA TV – full details here. It’s only a fiver to watch both matches on the night – that has to be the bargain of the weekend.
I’m hitting the road west in the morning myself and I’m looking forward to being at MacHale Park for both matches. I’m also on podcasting duties along with the Mayo News lads and, if time permits (which it may not as Rob isn’t around tomorrow evening), I might even manage to do a post-match audio report as well. I will, though, definitely be doing a piece here on the blog on the two finals later on tomorrow night. ‘Till then.