Loughgiel aim to finally hit top form in Ulster showdown
Loughgiel manager PJ O'Mullan admits his team’s performances in the Championship have been disappointing — but warns there is no chance of the All-Ireland champions underestimating Portaferry in Sunday’s Ulster Club Hurling final.
“We are getting there, we are working on it,” explained O'Mullan.
“We feel there is a good performance in us and we have to work as hard as we can to get that performance out — we owe it to ourselves more than anybody,” he said.
“Portaferry have never won an Ulster Championship and they are putting in serious work with their kids.
“We are absolutely taking it as seriously as any Ulster final we would get into.”
Outside of the Loughgiel circle, some puzzlement has been expressed about their form to date, most amply displayed in their lacklustre efforts against Dunloy in the Antrim final.
Former Antrim selector Gregory O'Kane professes one theory.
“I think the problem Loughgiel had going into the final was that they hadn't really been tested,” said O’Kane.
“It was probably their first time this year to be tested,” he mused.
“Dunloy would feel they left the game behind them, Loughgiel had a few frees towards the end that got them over the line.
“Dunloy probably had the edge but couldn't put them away,” he added.
O'Mullan sees things slightly differently though.
“You have to give Dunloy a lot of credit for the way they played and the way they set up,” said |O’Mullan.
“If it was there for them they would have been good enough to come and win it and that's the bottom line.”
In the first 17 minutes of the game Dunloy failed to get a shot at goal, and had five wides racked up by the 20th minute.
After winning their second All-Ireland club title back in March — their first was in 1983 — Loughgiel surveyed where they had come from, with six consecutive final losses dating back to 2003, before they finally put that to bed in 2010.
With extended campaigns in 2010-2011, when they lost the All-Ireland semi-final to Kilkenny's O'Loughlin Gaels, and last year's incredible triumph, they could be susceptible to fatigue.
A tell-tale hint came when last year's joint-captain Johnny Campbell announced he was taking a break from inter-county hurling to recuperate from his injuries.
Now Loughgiel are bidding to equal Ballycastle McQuillan's three in a row of Ulster titles from 1978-79 to 1980-81, and surely the Dunloy record of four back to back wins, 2000 to 2003, is within their radar.
Opponents Portaferry face an enormous task.
Teams from the Ards Peninsula have not won an Ulster club since Ballygalget's last in 2005 and Portaferry have not been in the final for a decade.
They have had a mixed record in the Antrim and Down league also, losing more games (six) than they have won (five).
“At the moment, it's Loughgiel's to lose,” said O'Kane.
“Portaferry could deliver a massive performance, but on paper you would have to say Loughgiel will get over the line.”
Whatever happens on Sunday, it should certainly be an intriguing encounter.