Knockmore players celebrate following their success in the Mayo SFC final last year. They will have many challengers to their crown this year. PHOTO: SPORTSFILE

The most open Mayo club championships in years

TYNAN'S TAKE: By Stuart Tynan

“It's the most wonderful time of the year.”

While the Andy Williams classic mainly describes all the joys of Christmas, it is just as fitting to use it for the best time of the GAA calendar: the club championships.

That might seem strange given the dominance of the GAA inter-county calendar across all forms of media and the excitement it brings to us all, but this is the bread and butter of our games. We have seen last year how successful it was when it stood on its own with no interference and considering how open both the senior and intermediate championships are this year, we could be set once again for another enthralling two months of action.

It is hard to start anywhere else when talking about contenders for the senior championship than the current champions Knockmore. Not many had them down at the start as the favourites, but Ray Dempsey's side ended a 23-year wait for the Moclair Cup, accounting for Ballintubber, Ballina Stephenites and Breaffy in the knockout stages to claim the cup and it will take a good team to stop them from retaining their title.

But one could pick out five teams who have legitimate claims to being that side. I seem to pick Breaffy, last years runners-up, almost every year and while you feel at some point they have to get over the line, the mileage on a number of players is adding up.

Unfortunately, the comparisons with the county team's failure to capture Sam are quite apt, with Breaffy having now lost four finals in eight seasons. You wonder how much more heartbreak guys like Rob Hennelly and the O'Shea brothers can take but knowing how these men keep coming back to well time after time, it would be foolish to write them off.

Ballintubber and Castlebar Mitchels, two sides who effectively had the 2010s to themselves, will be on their own respective missions to show they will not be falling to the back of the line. Mitchels failed to get out of their group and find themselves in tough company once again for the opening stage. But their star-studded cast, including Paddy and James Durcan, Neil Douglas, Donal Vaughan, Ger McDonagh and Rory Byrne will be a major threat to anyone.

The news recently that Cillian O'Connor returned to training with Mayo before the All-Ireland gives some form of optimism that he might play a part in Ballintubber's quest to regain their title, but many of the players involved in their successes remain should he not return. Now under the management of Enda Gilvarry, who managed Mayo to the 2013 All-Ireland minor title, they look primed to capture the biggest prize in Mayo club football once again.

Last year's losing semi-finalists, Ballina Stephenites and Westport, will also be looking to build on their recent impressive championship showing. They're both knocking on the door and sooner or later, one of them will take the final steps to the promised land.

We could be in for something special.

*You can read Stuart's full column every Tuesday in our print edition.