Saturday, September 05, 2020

Mayo SFC Semi-Final: Westport v Breaffy

A sea-change is happening in the senior championship this year, with Ballintubber, Castlebar Mitchels and Ballaghaderren all gone by the wayside, but Breaffy remain standing strong, the last of the old stagers, and by far and away the most experienced of the four quarter-finalists.

Breaffy’s Aidan O’Shea and Lee Keegan of Westport with referee Garryowen McMahon at the coin toss of their Round 1 encounter last month. Picture: James Crombie/INPHO

Their win over Ballagh’ last Saturday night was a testament to all the attributes that have made them consistent contenders for the senior title for most of the last decade; physical power, canny game-management and an intangible and hard-earned ability to find a way to win games.
They have a backline ravaged by injuries and suspensions and a perilously thin bench but when the chance was there to put Ballagh’ to the sword in the last ten minutes, they took it without hesitation.

“There were guys involved today who hadn’t played a minute in the championship before now and they made key differences at different points in the game and I’m very happy for them,” Breaffy’s joint-manager Shane Conway told the Western People after that game. “That’s the thing about this panel, they have a massive spirit even when their backs are to the walls, but they come out on top a lot because they have that togetherness,” he added.

Conor O’Shea is in outstanding form at the moment and with he and Mattie Ruane buttressed from the back by Seamie O’Shea and from the front by Aidan O’Shea, Breaffy have the strongest middle sector of any team still in contention. Colm Flynn and Paul McDermott are also playing great stuff up front.
The issues for Breaffy are at the back. With Conor Beirne out injured, Dylan Cannon still suspended and Michael Hall struggling with an injury of his own, their backline is stretched to breaking point, and it’s hard to see how they are going to live with a Westport attack in which all of Colm and Mark Moran, Killian Kilkelly and Kevin Keane are playing some brilliant football.
They all shone in Westport’s ten-point win over The Neale last Sunday, helping to rack up a score that meant The Neale’s three goals at the other end barely mattered. And with the likes of Pat Lambert, Oisin McLaughlin and Alan Kennedy not even getting a start for Westport, the Coveys have a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal that will surely be too much for Breaffy to contain.

“We’re delighted to have gotten through that game against a very good Neale team,” Westport coach Martin Connolly told the Western People afterwards. “We had to take them very seriously because they are a solid outfit with county titles under their belts in recent years.

Great friends and former colleagues at Rice College, Shane Conway and Martin Connolly will be on opposite sides of the fence when Breaffy and Westport contest next weekend’s Mayo SFC semi-final in MacHale Park. Conway is joint-manager of Breaffy and Connolly is the coach of Westport.

“Our focus was to get to the semis and it wasn’t pretty at times but we got there. It wasn’t handed to us on a plate, we knew we had to fight for it and we were well tested.”

There’s little that Conway and Connolly won’t know about the other’s squads or their tactics. As a secondary school teacher in Rice College, Shane Conway has coached and managed the vast majority of the Westport players at some point in time, and of course much of the success he has enjoyed with the football teams there has happened in the company of his former colleague Connolly.

What does seem certain is that Saturday’s semi-final will be a shootout. Breaffy will undoubtedly put up a decent tally – they are the highest-scoring team in the championship by some distance – but Westport will fancy their chances of matching and bettering whatever their West Mayo rivals can produce.
Where Breaffy might have an edge is in that wealth of experience. For all of Westport’s youthful verve, this is still the first senior semi-final any of their players will have encountered. And when they last met in the championship in the 2018 quarter-finals, Breaffy were able to grind out a one-point win. Shane Conway and Peter Ford will have a plan to do so again, and the battling qualities of this Breaffy team can no longer be questioned. But it’s hard to look beyond that fearsome Westport attack.

Throw in is at 7.15pm

Verdict: Westport

Be sure to get your copy of next Tuesday’s Western People (print or digital editions) for reports, analysis and reaction on the Mayo senior, intermediate and junior football championship semi-finals.

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