Semi-Final Pre Match Interviews
- Nov 05,2021
Louisburgh vs Ballyhaunis (Sun 12.30pm)
For Ballyhaunis it’s been a rollercoaster ride during this year’s intermediate championship. After their defeat at home to Crossmolina, few would have expected Paul Jordan’s side to be in a county semi-final. That defeat left Ballyhaunis with no option but to play knockout football, something which manager Jordan feels has allowed his team to play with more freedom.
“It’s been a good year so far. The first round of the championship didn't go the way we wanted to, we were beaten at home by Crossmolina. So it was knockout football from there on in but we seem to have gotten better every week and we're in a good place now so I'm looking forward to Sunday,” Jordan told Mayo GAA TV.
“When the final whistle went (against Crossmolina) it was a seriously big blow to be honest because we were in control of the game really. We were five points up at one stage, with 10 minutes to go, and just a few errors around the pitch and a lack of concentration to see out the game cost us. We ended up losing by two but reflecting now a few weeks later, it probably has stood to us.”
The biggest aspect of Ballyhaunis revival has been their defence, conceding just seven, nine and six scores in their three subsequent games since that opening day defeat. Boasting some current and former Mayo inter-county stars, it has proved to have been a formidable part of their winning platform.
“We are lucky we have really good defenders, the likes of Keith Higgins, Jack Coyne (who is in with the Mayo panel) and Eoin Collins. That’s three guys that have played a lot of county football in the last couple of years. They've led the way in the backline but then we've other guys really stepping this year that have won county titles in 2014 as well so we have a lot of experience in defence.”
Jordan was appointed manager earlier this year but has been involved in the Ballyhaunis set-up as a coach, most notably when losing the 2019 Intermediate final by a point.
“I was actually the coach in 2019 and we got to the final. We lost it by a point, really disappointing. We didn't play well on the day. And then last year, the team ended up in a relegation semi-final. It was such a tough year in 2019 and just things didn't go well last year as it was for everyone. We got a few good guys in on the management and we seem to have turned it around anyway.”
Ballyhaunis’ upcoming opponents are Louisburgh. They reached Sunday’s semi-final with a narrow 1.12 to 2.7 win over Hollymount/Carramore. Manager Ronan O'Grady is optimistic of his side’s chances this weekend, given the competitive nature of the Mayo Intermediate championship.
“Delighted to be there. We had a tough group. And we managed to get through by winning all our games. It would have been our goal at the start of the year. It’s seriously competitive. I remember hearing someone saying that 12 teams could win. And that's true,” O’Grady told Mayo GAA TV.
O’Grady is under no illusions of the task ahead, given Ballyhaunis’ incredible defensive record, but doesn’t want to get too bogged down in the individual quality of the opposition defenders.
“We just hope we score one point more than them. Obviously, they’ve only conceded six points in a couple of games but we will be hoping to score more than that.”
Mayo Gaels vs Kilmaine (Sat 2.30pm)
Kilmaine manager David O’Loughlin believes his side are finally capitalising on the success built up at underage level over the past few years.
“Back up in intermediate, it's been a good year for us to get to the semi-final, it was all about consolidating our place in the intermediate but to get to a semi-final is something we're looking forward to,” O’Loughlin told Mayo GAA TV.
“Look, at the beginning of the year, everyone would have been looking at Mayo Gaels as one of the teams that would have been in the mix. We know what's ahead of us and we know that we need a very good day at the office to get to the final but it’s championship football and we'll give it our best shot.”
Mayo star defender Oisín Mullin looks set for Australia at the end of the year, joining AFL side Geelong Cats, and O’Loughlin was full of praise for his player and the attitude he brings to the dressing room.
“Oisín is very good to have around the place. He bounces off the lads and creates a good atmosphere. He works hard regardless of where he trains. Whether Mayo came in or not, you’d always get the true Oisín. He's enjoying the moment so hopefully, he can do well again on Saturday.”
Standing in Kilmaine’s way to a return to the Mayo Intermediate final are Mayo Gaels, who will have no fear of Saturday’s opponents. While Ballyhaunis were battling relegation in 2020, Mayo Gaels were going out with a whimper, something manager James Fellon feels has spurred on his side in 2021.
“It's great to be involved in the latter stages of the championship, especially after last year’s disappointment of losing a quarter-final, probably underachieving a bit. The number of our players started to increase and we had a lot of good young players. We were tight for numbers for a good few years but thankfully we have caught up there. So to blend the youth and an experience is good. So we would have put that sort of pressure on ourselves,” Fellon told Mayo GAA TV.
Underage success brings added pressure on a club to bring its players through to ultimately competing for club championships down the line. However, the competitive nature of the Mayo intermediate championship in recent years has made it difficult for clubs like Mayo Gaels to make that next step to senior.
“It’s been well documented over the last few years, that intermediate club football in Mayo is very strong. Like you could pick 10 or 12 teams who might be involved in the latter stages. We have lads who’ve played with county teams so you have to be a certain standard to make those teams, regardless of how successful you have been. These lads have done it with their schools, underage teams and any team they've been involved with. They're successful, they're ambitious, and they train hard. They're good trainers so it's going to be no different when they get to senior. Once you give them the tools to help them along the way. In Kevin (Walsh) as well we have a very good trainer. He's experienced in his years with Garrymore and he has brought a certain level of experience and his passion is huge as well.”
Fellon was keen to pay tribute to Oisín Mullin. Mayo Gaels would have come up against him a lot over the years, and while appreciating his talent, he doesn’t want to lose focus on the other 14 opposition players.
“A lot of these lads have played against Oisín through the underage groups so we'd be well used to playing against him as well. It looks like he’s going to the AFL so this year might be the last time he's playing Gaelic football in Mayo for a while. It’ll be a good experience and congrats to him on getting that opportunity. But there's more than one player on any Gaelic team. If you focus too much on one player, you're going to be in big trouble”
Knockmore vs Garrymore (Sat 7.00pm)
Garrymore’s experienced players were the difference both on and off the pitch in their quarter-final win over Castlebar Mitchells. That’s according to manager Damian Egan.
Egan was full of praise for the “calmness” shown by his players, during and after their quarter-final victory.
“After the win against Castlebar last week, there was an air of calmness about it really. We’re lucky in the club that a lot of our leaders have instilled that calmness where beating Castlebar was something we had to do to get to a semi-final. There’s a good quiet belief in the group,” Egan told Mayo GAA TV.
Egan reflected on last year’s disappointing performance in the championship, which fuelled his side with a focus on not letting this year pass by the same way.
“Last year the results didn’t go our way, so we needed to win the first championship group game against Kiltane. We got a win against The Neale - who beat us last year by a point - and then in the Breaffy game we conceded a goal in the last minute. We rectified a few things that went wrong that night and took it into the Castlebar game.”
Looking ahead to Saturday night’s showdown with the reigning champions, the Garrymore manager knows what challenge Knockmore will bring.
“Knockmore are worthy county champions. They’re a formidable outfit with the system they play. They’re hard to break down. They’ve key players - the likes of Darren McHale - but sure look, county semi-final. The pressure is on both of us to perform.”
Egan is also aware of the level of interest in the Mayo championship this year, praising both RTÉ and Mayo GAA TV for broadcasting games to a wider audience.
“Around the country, there’s always a curiosity outside the county of Mayo football given the inter-county team does so well. RTE cameras were there last weekend for the doubleheader. Anything that raises the profile of Mayo club football is a good thing. Even with Mayo GAA TV broadcasting to a big audience as well. It gets people talking about Mayo club football in general.”
Knockmore’s journey back to a county semi-final hasn’t been as plain-sailing as they might have hoped. Losing their second group game to Belmullet put the champions on the back-foot and heading into a quarter-final with Ballintubber, there were those that feared that the aim of retaining the county title would be halted at the first knockout stage.
What followed was a dramatic game, live on RTÉ, where sub-goalkeeper and 19-year-old Ryan McDonnell saved a last-minute penalty from Diarmuid O’Connor that kept the back-to-back dream alive.
Selector Pat Kelly admitted it was a relief to still be in this year’s championship.
“To get out of the group was just a relief, I suppose. We had been playing in fits and starts. But when we drew Ballintubber, who have been the standard-bearers for years here in Mayo football, we knew we had to be at our best. It was a fantastic game of football. Tough, exciting for a lot of reasons, and a spectacular finish,” Kelly told Mayo GAA TV.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s semi-final, Kelly is expecting another game that will go down to the wire.
“Yeah, I don't think there's never much in between these two teams. We've huge respect for Garrymore, they're another rural club. That huge tradition, okay in recent years they maybe haven't been grabbing the limelight but they have a fantastic tradition behind them. They're a bit like ourselves. They're a very balanced sort of team. So I don't think there's going to be anything in it, to be honest. It could be just a lucky bounce here or there that wins it for either team.”
Westport vs Belmullet (Sun 2.30pm)
Westport are many people’s favourites for this year’s Mayo SFC, and there’s no doubting their ability after a dramatic quarter-final victory over Ballina Stephenites.
Manager Martin Calvey is delighted to still be in the mix, as the club goes in search of their first-ever Paddy Moclair cup.
“It was great to get through the group stage, have a close shave in the quarter-final and then into a semi-final. Yes, we're close to where we finished the game like that. Obviously, we had a really poor first quarter and were seven points down but the way we get back into the second quarter and fourth quarter was very satisfying. It was good. A good performance. Yep. And the key performance as well,” Calvey told Mayo GAA TV.
“We're expecting to be challenged by Belmullet on Sunday. Obviously, they're semi-finalists and are a good football team. A team that's comfortable on the ball and their defence is hard to break down but we're looking forward to the challenge.”
Belmullet’s main danger will come in the form of Ryan O’Donoghue and when asked about Lee Keegan or another defender doing a man-marking job on him, Reynolds revealed that it’s not always as easy as simply picking a defender to mark the opposition’s key forward.
“To be honest with you, you can have all the plans you want. Once the game starts it takes on a life of its own. We have a number of experienced players and I’m sure they are well able to figure it out themselves if needs be.”
After causing a shock win over county champions Knockmore in the group stages, many did not give Belmullet the credit they possibly deserved for their victory. They proved it was no fluke, beating Breaffy 2.5 to 0.8 to seal a semi-final spot this weekend.
Manager Damian Mulligan was delighted to get this far in the championship and sees it as a massive opportunity on Sunday to keep the fairytale going.
“We’re really looking forward to the weekend. The lads have worked really hard for this, it’s a couple of years since the lads won the intermediate championship. We had a hard group with Knockmore, Charlestown and Aghamore. To top the group was important and our reward was a tough game against Breaffy. We dug deep and we were very happy with the result,” Mulligan told Mayo GAA TV.
There’s no doubt that Westport are expected to book their place in the final on Sunday, but this has often been the theme for Belmullet matches this campaign. With neither side having ever lifted the Paddy Moclair cup, it is a massive opportunity for both clubs to end their famine.
“Westport I suppose are the bookies’ favourites, a lot of Mayo players on the pitch and the bench. We know their strengths and have huge respect for them but look it it’s about ourselves and this is a huge opportunity for us. County semi-finals are hard to come by. Just ask ourselves and Westport over the last few years. Now that we’re here, we demand performance from the lads. It massive day for the club but more importantly, it’s a massive day for the lads. I hope they do justice to their ability. They’ve shown what they can do to the management team so I really hope they show everybody what they can do on Sunday.”