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Sambo sounds out a warning to his Cushendall warriors

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Cautious: Cushendall Ruairí Óg manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton.

Cautious: Cushendall Ruairí Óg manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton.

Cautious: Cushendall Ruairí Óg manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton.

Cushendall Ruairí Óg manager Terence 'Sambo' McNaughton has sounded a note of caution to anyone who feels that Sunday's senior Ulster club hurling final is just a matter of his side fulfilling their potential and delivering the Four Seasons Cup. The men from the Glens face Down's Portaferry in the decider, at Owenbeg, with throw-in at 2.30pm.

However, the manner in which the Down men disposed of a hotly-fancied Ballycran in their own domestic championship dictates that they cannot be taken lightly, according to the former All-Star.

"Portaferry are going to be a serious ask," McNaughton says.

"We played Portaferry in the league and they are a wee bit like ourselves.

"Everybody was talking about Ballycran all year, that they were going to win Ulster this year.

"But we played Portaferry and they gave us all we wanted in the league."

After last Sunday's semi-final win over Slaughtneil, when Karl McKeegan's goal put Cushendall in the driving seat, opposing manager Mickey Glover was in no doubt about the destination of the Ulster title, saying: "They'll probably win Ulster now and that's no disrespect to Portaferry. I think they're a very strong side."

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In a lot of ways, McNaughton (right) is a reluctant manager of this present Cushendall side.

Despite bringing them through the ranks in various guises within the club and county structures, this season he was meant to have been assisted by his cousin, and 1989 All-Ireland final team mate, James McNaughton.

His death after a short illness in February has made for a raw season for all involved, especially James' sons who are on the senior panel.

As another, unrelated, factor McNaughton took over a bar in Belfast last June and is putting in the hours, putting his own stamp on McEnaneys, known locally as 'The Gravediggers', given its proximity to Milltown cemetery.

With all that going on in the background, it is no wonder that Cushendall have opted to place their full focus on themselves before facing opponents this season.

It is an approach adopted long before they dethroned 2012 All-Ireland champions Loughgiel in the first round of the Antrim Championship and it has served them well in subsequent rounds against Dunloy and St Gall's.

In needing a replay to get past Slaughtneil, they came equipped with a bank of evidence for the second match and, as such, were able to adjust their strategy accordingly.

They pulled more men into their defence and also worked that bit harder around the middle to deny the Slaughtneil midfield the influence they enjoyed in the drawn game.

But for the final, McNaughton maintains they will go back to getting their own house in order.

Portaferry have a number of supremely talented hurlers among their ranks but were disappointing in the Antrim league this year.

Come Championship, they are a different animal.

"But it will be the same as all year, we haven't talked about the other team. We focus on ourselves a lot.

"Obviously we had to talk about what we had to do, we weren't going to give the same room as we did the last day, but we will concentrate on ourselves again.

"We will give Portaferry the respect they deserve, go into the game and see what happens."

Last Sunday, McNaughton replaced one talented son in teenager Christy, with another in Shane, who is gradually returning from a hip operation. Shane then turned the game in Cushendall's favour, forcing the turnover that led to Neil McManus's penalty and slinging over two points from play.

The performance of Christy, the two-goal hero against Loughgiel earlier in the summer, was subdued however, prompting his father to explain: "Christy is playing a lot of hurling.

"He is only a kid and he is finding it hard this last couple of games.

"He is with the county minors, our own minors and he is training away with the school.

"And I always maintain he should be playing with his own age group, I would never stop him playing with the school. He has been training away with the school because I didn't want the school to think he is a Prima Donna.

"He could be doing with a wee break, truth be told."

Christy has all the commitments a schoolboy hurler could have and with his school, St Killian's Garron Tower, is involved in a group targeting glory on the Mageann Cup later in the year.

He also found the more physical elements of Ulster club hurling tough, admits his father.

"He is a young fella and he is finding it hard - they play hurling like footballers play hurling, with pulling and dragging and spoiling and Christy is not used to it," he says.

"He will grow up with the rest of the team in time."


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