Loughgiel won’t be stopped
BARRING a massive surprise, Loughgiel should progress past Portaferry in this weekend’s final and become only the second team to win three Ulster SHC titles in a row.
In doing so they will equal the achievement of Dunloy and Ballycastle, while at the same time become the dominant team in Ulster hurling.
The six years when they couldn’t win an Antrim title for love nor money will be regarded as a distant memory, like hurling in a flat cap
In this week’s coverage of the final, we spoke to Armagh hurler Nathan Curry, who played for Middletown in their semi-final against Loughgiel.
By virtue of the fact that he is in Armagh man, he compared Loughgiel to the All-Ireland football champions, as in the Orchard county they are the template for success.
Hurling folk would probably prefer not to be compared to a football team, but if Loughgiel were to emulate the success of Crossmaglen, who have won 14 of the last 15 Armagh titles, then the correlation would be a welcome one.
Perhaps the test of whether Loughgiel can become a great team, is how they deal with being favourites.
The underdog motivation is often the preferred approach, as it gives team easy motivation and takes off the pressure, allowing players to calm down and express themselves.
On the other hand, if a team is set on a pedestal, they are easier knocked off.
So Loughgiel now find themselves in that position. They have already dealt with the pot shots in Antrim, which mainly came from Dunloy, but now they have to face a plucky underdog in Portaferry.
The Down side are in fourth position in the Antrim Division one, which suggests they are not far away from Loughgiel in terms of ability, however if Dunloy couldn’t get closer than four points to Loughgiel in the Championship final, then there is little hope for Portaferry.
At the same time, Portaferry are in the final so they are in with a shout, and they have a manager who should be able to draw a big performance out of his team. Noel Sands is that man. A legend of Down hurling, he is an astute manager, and knows the right things to say to the press in the run up to a big game, as his interview with John Martin in this week’s issue shows.
At the same time, he has a few outstanding minors on his team who are both talented, but also fearless. Eoghan, Noel’s son, is still a minor, yet he is one of their key forwards.
Loughgiel have been used to playing their own game this year, getting forward in numbers and working for each other, but if Portaferry’s forwards can get on the ball, and ask a few questions of their defenders and goalkeeper, then Loughgiel’s players may get unsettled and this game might be closer than we expect.