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Portaferry hit new heights

Skipper Convery ecstatic as his side clinch first title in their ninth final

By Cahair O'Kane

A superb defensive effort from Portaferry saw them over the line to a first ever Ulster Club SHC title at the expense of an outfought Cushendall.

They came to Owenbeg with eight Ulster final defeats as the club's backdrop, and with an underdog tag that they've worn well all season.

They weren't even supposed to get out of Down this year, with Ballycran the fancied team there.

But Portaferry won that Down final and they more than justified their place in the provincial showpiece, turning in a display of savage intensity that the young Antrim champions couldn't get to grips with.

"After eight attempts it is a day we never thought we would see," said Portaferry captain John Convery.

"It's something we've been dreaming about and no-one gave us a chance going into the match.

"Everyone played brilliantly, we fought for each other and we came out with the right result in the end.

"We built and built this year, there was just a different feeling about what we could achieve."

Cushendall were in trouble from early in the game and although they launched a prolonged assault on the Portaferry goal in the final 10 minutes, they were trying at that point to claw back an eight-point deficit.

It was no more than the winners deserved.

They had bravely chosen to go against the breeze in the first half but as captain Convery admitted, even he didn't expect them to go in a point up.

Twenty minutes in, they led by five. Paul Braniff, up against Neil McManus in midfield, was nailing the frees and that gave his side a real foothold.

Not that there were too many frees to come by with the less-is-more style of refereeing Eamonn Hassan brought to the game.

That aided the spectacle and neither side had much complaint as the challenges came in thick and fast. There were a couple of handbag incidents but physicality was very much to the fore.

Braniff hit four of his side's first seven points, but the pick of the scores in that period came from man of the match Ciaran Coulter, who burst through and fired over off his left side on the run.

But the winners failed to register any score in the final 15 minutes of the half as Terence McNaughton's side hit the closest thing to a purple patch they managed all afternoon.

Donal McNaughton came out around centre-forward and with Aaron Graffin hugely effective in his own full-back line, they clawed the gap back to a point by the interval, 0-7 to 0-6.

Cushendall introduced Shane McNaughton for the start of the second half, and Christy McNaughton wasn't far behind him, coming on six minutes after the restart. But by the time the impact they made was felt, they were chasing the game.

Eoghan Sands, quiet enough in the first half, came into his own after the break. His performance was illuminated by two stunning scores from sideline balls.

They capped a superb start to the second half that held the winning of the game for Sean Young's men. They built a 0-15 to 0-7 lead by the three-quarter mark and only

for a brilliant save from Eoin Gillan to deny Aaron O'Prey, it could have been more.

But Sands did find the net, and brilliantly so with one hand, to make it 1-15 to 0-9. From there, Cushendall dominated but Portaferry loaded their own square and defended heroically.

The favourites panicked earlier than they might have, launching one ball after the other on top of a rock-solid blue and yellow wall of men, when they had chances to chip scores that might have brought them back into the game.

But it was immaterial in a way. As good as Cushendall's defence was, Portaferry's was better.

Eoghan Campbell drifting from corner-forward left Caolan Taggart as a spare man and he swept up serious ball. Their skipper Convery and Conor O'Neill stood out along with the man of the match Coulter.

Every clearance was celebrated like a score in 10 minutes of Cushendall pressure that yielded just 0-2, though that owed partly to some smart goalkeeping from the impressive Karol Keating. The final whistle ultimately brought mercy for both, ending the long wait for Portaferry and ending a long afternoon for Cushendall, who just never looked like winning.

Belfast Telegraph

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