Ulster Club Senior Hurling Championship semi-final
Ballycran (Down) v Dunloy (Antrim)
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 2.30pm
BY DAN O’MUIRIGH
BALLYCRAN joint-manager Gary Savage is happy to carry the tag of underdogs as they face Dunloy this Sunday for a spot in the Ulster final.
The Ardsmen know that not many will fancy them to knock out the Antrim champions, but it was the same against Slaughtneil at the same stage 12 months ago.
A heroic display saw them beat Slaughtneil by 10 points and even though they lost the Ulster final to Cushendall, Savage believes they are well placed for another assault on the competition.
“As usual, we’re the underdogs again,” said Savage, who takes the side with Michael Braniff.
“The Down Championship was a big championship this year. We played Portaferry in the first match, although they beat us we were seven or eight points up at a stage. We then beat Ballygalget and Liatroim to get to the final,” he said.
“In the final we played our best this year, so hopefully we can continue that on for this week. We’re coming along and hopefully we’ll come at the right time for Sunday.”
With no floodlit facilities at home, Ballycran have been forced to train elsewhere recently and have been as far as Belfast.
However, Savage is in no doubt that this, coupled with the test of challenge games, has been good for the team and was quick to praise the players for the sacrifice it takes.
“Training’s been going well. We’re just after a few challenge matches. We’ve had to go to Belfast there to train for two weeks, up in the Dub and Falls Park. It’s a bit of a journey, but it went well. We’re a close-knit team.
“It’s fair play to the players. Some players are leaving the house at half six and are not getting home until half ten. Everybody is really involved and there wasn’t a bad word said about going up to Belfast. They’ve been fantastic.”
Eight points separated the sides in last year’s Ulster final with Cushendall winning 1-15 to 0-10. Savage is hopeful they can avoid such stagefright this weekend.
“Last year, we didn’t play to our potential in the final at all,” Savage conceded.
“We take it game by game.
“Dunloy are going to be a very, very hard team to beat. They’re a young team. We’re just taking Dunloy from the start and please God we can get over them, and we’ll see what happens between Slaughtneil and Middletown.
“At the start of the year, the main thing was to retain the Down Championship because we didn’t want to become ‘one-year wonders’ as such.
“But we retained the title which was a big thing for us. We still want to move on. We know we’re up against a good Dunloy team and we need to step up again for Ulster.”
Ballycran have received a boost in the build up to the game, as Savage confirmed that the controversial red card received by Colum McManus against Portaferry in the Down final was successfully appealed by the club and rescinded.
Savage also recognised the need for Ballycran to appreciate the times at the top and the importance of a winning mentality.
“For a long time we weren’t winning too many championship’s. It’s been good to do the two-in-a-row there. I’m sure Dunloy are the same, you want to win anything.”
For Savage and his Ballycran outfit, while conditions at this time of the year may not always be ideal and training facilities not always close, it is a privilege to be at this stage and bodes well for the team as a whole.
“It’s always great to be important. You don’t want to be knocked out of the championship.
“We want to be here in the dark nights, to be training. We want to keep going,” he said. “It’s good camaraderie with the players and management. This is the place where you want to be.”