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Coulter in awe of Portaferry's Ulster heroics

By Declan Bogue

There must have been something in the air this Halloween weekend.

While Omagh were busy disposing Crossmaglen of their customary Ulster tilt at glory under the gaze of the TG4 live cameras, something joyous was happening in Owenbeg.

In a three-horse race, Portaferry have only won three Down hurling titles in the last decade. On Sunday, they finally made it onto the leaderboard of Ulster senior club hurling titles by getting the better of Cushendall. And it was no fluke either, as the eight-point margin at the end tells you.

One of the main reasons for the win was Ciaran Coulter. Marking Karl McKeegan, he kept the inspirational Cushendall veteran restricted to a single point. At the final whistle, he was in awe of what he and his team had done.

"It's a bit surreal at the minute, I'm a bit lost for words," he said afterwards. "It's fantastic. Just look at the joy it brought. To see the look on my parents' face, all my family and friends, it's unbelievable."

At the start of the Down Championship, Portaferry would not have been fancied. Ballycran had made serious strides in the Antrim league and no team managed to get the better of them more than once, if even. Some seasoned observers had them as favourites to win Ulster.

The St Patrick's club met Ballygalget in the Down semi-final, a side that had already beaten them in the league, but this time they put a 20-point margin between the sides by the final whistle.

At that point, they harboured no Ulster ambitions.

"Down first and foremost, that's always number one," explained the 28-year-old.

"You want to have a good league campaign and frankly, we didn't. A lot of people knocked us and said we weren't capable of doing anything, but we proved them wrong. Getting past Ballygalget in the semi-final was first and foremost. We would worry about a final if we get there, we thought."

They went on to upset the odds against Ballycran in the final.

Coulter continued: "To be honest I'd have been fairly confident of beating Ballycran. Bookies have their odds but they're always 50-50 championship games."

A slightly underwhelming Ulster semi-final win over tiny Lisbellaw of Fermanagh left them as way out underdogs for the final. But they brought an intensity rarely seen before in the final.

"That's our benchmark. That's what we preach. We preach it at every training session, we preach it before every match," said Coulter.

"We try and get our basics right and get our workrate and intensity levels as high as possible. That's what brings us to the table. Sometimes we don't play to the best of our ability, but when we do we're capable of beating anybody."

And after this, you have to ask about their chances of doing something in the All-Ireland series?

"I haven't thought about it," he replied. "Anything is possible. But we'll take it one step at a time."

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