Mayo FA Westaro Cup Final
Ballina Town v Westport United
Sunday, July 28
3pm in Solar 21 Park, Milebush
By Paul O’Malley
Two of the Mayo League’s most competitive forces will go head-to-head in the final of the Westaro Cup this Sunday.
Ballina Town and Westport United are both pushing Castlebar Celtic hard in an increasingly exciting Super League title race and the Westaro Cup represents an excellent chance for both to claim some silverware, but it won’t be an easy game for either side.
To get to the final, Town came through a tense quarter-final encounter with Manulla away from home. Mick Duffy’s side survived going down to ten men to claim victory courtesy of a late winner from captain Jamie Cawley. They then went to Ballyglass for the semi-final and overcame Tom Connolly’s charges on an impressive scoreline of 4-1, thanks in part to a brace from Benny Lavelle.
Lavelle has been on a hot streak lately and has been Town’s most dangerous player in the second half of the league campaign. Last year’s top scorer in Town’s league-winning season, he took a while to hit his stride this term but has sustained a brilliant run of form since Town’s disappointing goalless draw at home to Ballyhaunis Town and ended the following game against Claremorris with five goals to his name.
His partnership up top with David O’Mahoney is an excellent combination of pace and power, with Lavelle spearheading a lethal counter-attack and O’Mahoney never giving the opposition a break with his pressing ability.
They benefit from a supply line that includes Jamie Cawley, Tommy Forde and Dylan McKee and all of these players have the potential to really damage United on Sunday, both on the break and through slower, more methodical attacking play.
They still have Dylan Edwards to come back, who was the star of the first half of the season and was still the league’s leading scorer on fourteen goals until he was recently surpassed by teammate Lavelle.
The backline contains some of the best defensive battlers in the division, with Derek Tansey, Niall Casey and Duane Helly some standout names. The current league holders have been known to switch to a three-at-the-back system at times, to push the full-backs wide and let wingers like Cawley play more centrally.
Westport United, meanwhile, began their cup campaign with a Round 1 win over fierce rivals Celtic, winning out 3-1 at United Park. They followed this up with a 3-0 quarter-final victory over Snugboro United. They narrowly squeezed past Ballyheane to reach the final, picking up a 1-0 win at Quigley Park. A key man in all three games has been winger Phil Keegan, who has scored in every round of the competition en-route to the final.
Keegan has been a part of a potent United attack, playing on the right side of their typical 4-3-3 formation, with the left-wing occupied by Brandon Scahill of late. Scahill isn’t your typical winger and relies more on his strength and height to get into scoring positions, which has paid off for him as he has scored six times in the Super League this season.
Scahill’s movement also allows the left-back James O’Donnell to advance into crossing positions, an enticing attacking situation from which O’Donnell has been a danger this season.
Darren Browne has been the primary striker and a key man for the Covies this season and has ten league goals to his name. He has scored with his left foot, his right foot and his head, making him one of the Super League’s most dangerous finishers.
That 4-3-3 system often switches to a 4-2-3-1, depending on how far forward one of the midfielders push. That advanced attacking midfield role is usually fulfilled by the ever-reliable Jesper Frisch. Frisch has been the Danish Dynamite for United in the middle of the park and has six goals to his name in the league.
There is experience in abundance in this United side, with both centre back Joe Lawless and midfielder Dave Cameron veterans of several Super League-winning campaigns. They know what it takes to win titles, having picked up a hatful of medals over the years, and that know-how will be a valuable asset for Padraig Burns’ side.
Ballina Town and Westport United have played each other just once in the league so far this season, in May at Belleek, with the return game at United Park set to take place in August. Back in May, Town won 2-0 with goals from Lavelle and Cawley.
They will be hoping for much of the same this time around but this final feels like a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. In the end, it will come down to the performance of individual players on both teams.
Which striker will have the finishing touch: Benny Lavelle or Darren Browne? Which high-flying winger will make the flanks their own: Jamie Cawley or Phillip Keegan? Which veteran defender will prove the most steadfast: Derek Tansey or Joe Lawless? Which goalkeeper, out of two of the finest the Mayo League has to offer, will be most alert to the danger: Mark Duffy or Gary Cunningham?
This Westaro Cup final is full of interesting tactical battles and it will be fascinating to see how one side is going to try to outplay the other. Extra time is a strong possibility. Both sides are well backed in their communities and great crowds are expected to attend.