O’Mullan names Portaferry’s main threat
PJ O’MULLAN says that there is one simple reason why Loughgiel must show Portaferry respect in Sunday’s Ulster final; Paul Braniff.
Forget the fact that Loughgiel are going for a three-in-a-row of Ulster titles, or that a Down team hasn’t won the Ulster title since Ballygalget beat Cushendall in the 2005 decider, the Shamrocks boss is not taking this game lightly.
“Any team that has Paul Braniff is a team that you have to show respect,” O’Mullan said.
“He would get his place on any team in Ulster, he would certainly get his place on our team.”
Despite the fact that Portaferry and Loughgiel hail from two separate counties, the sides are well acquainted with each other because the both play in the Antrim league.
In division one, they have played each other twice this season.
They drew back in April 1-14 (Portaferry) to 2-11 (Loughgiel), and then when Portaferry travelled to the north Antrim venue, the Shamrocks won by 0-19 to 1-9.
“It is going to be a massive pressure. They have been playing division one hurling for many years, and they have beaten us a couple of times before, so they won’t have any fear of playing us,” O’Mullan said.
“Their management team and back room team have been there and done that.”
The management team he refers to includes Noel Sands the former Down and Ulster star. Yet Loughgiel have their own legend along the sideline in the form of Jim Nelson, the man who led Antrim to the All-Ireland final in 1989. He coaches the team along with Lavey’s Joe McGurk, and has instilled a hunger in the team this year, despite the fact that they are strong favourites to win on Sunday.
“We have a full squad to choose from. Everything has gone well. We have trained hard and everyone is pushing for places. We have a panel of about 30, and everybody is really hungry.”
Part of the reason why their team is so competitive for places is that a number of young hurlers have been introduced onto the team, and that has focused the mind of the senior players.
According to O’Mullan though, the same thing has happened on the Down team, and he says that Loughgiel must be aware of that.
“They have a lot of young players on their team this year. They have a few of the hurlers who played for the An Dún team in the Mageean, and who beat Antrim in the Ulster Minor Championship last year. Mixing them in with the older players means they are something similar to ourselves. They are a very good team.
“I am more concerned about our own team.”
Portaferry’s motivation for winning is very different to Loughgiel’s.
The Down side are merely looking to win their first Ulster SHC title. The Shamrocks, however, want their third title in-a-row, and more importantly they want to get back to the All-Ireland series.
Yet while most managers prefer to take it one game at a time, the Loughgiel management are using the lure of All-Ireland hurling as a motivation tool.
“We have made no secret of the fact that we want to get back to an All-Ireland. We do take it one game at a time, but we have told them the only team that can stop us from getting back to the All-Ireland final is Portaferry.”
One of the concerns for both teams will be the weather. Yesterday, the forecast for Belfast on Sunday was overcast and rainy, which usually makes for a poor game.
“At this stage we are hoping for a good dry day. Both teams like to play nice open hurling. If it is a wet day then it becomes a more physical game,” O’Mullan said.
At the same time though, O’Mullan said that he wasn’t overly worried one way or another.
“Not at all. Jim and Joe have got all the players in a good place, and hopefully that shows on Sunday.”
Read our coverage of the upcoming Ulster Club Championships in the current issue of Gaelic Life, published on Thursday October 25. Buy your copy now in your local newsagent, or you can purchase the online version – for only 90p – by clicking here