By Michael McMullan
SLEACHT Néill face a different type of test this weekend as they put their Ulster title on the line against Portaferry insists manager Michael McShane.
Now in his eighth season at the helm, McShane guided the Emmet’s to tenth successive championship in Derry.
Like last year, the club’s dual players quickly licked the wounds of a football final defeat and are fully focused on winning more silverware.
“As I have said so often, the one thing that drives these players is their utter desire to win as much as they can in their careers,” McShane stressed of the Sleacht Néill ambition.
After winning a first Ulster title in 2016, another three have followed, but an All-Ireland final place has eluded them.
In the aftermath of their win over Kevin Lynch’s in late September, there was four weeks of total football preparation followed by getting their eye in with the small ball.
McShane insists his side have two “very difficult” games on the horizon if they are to keep a hold of the Four Seasons Cup.
“We are looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s autumn, it’s the Ulster Championship and there is no better feeling than running out for games like this. It’s what they train for and want to play in.”
Ballycastle native McShane saw Portaferry in action “two or three times” in the summer on their way to the Antrim league success.
It’s a first senior clash of the teams, with Sleacht Néill coming out on top in an Ulster minor final at the turn of the millennium when current Portaferry manager Karl Keating was between the posts and the Down side coming through after a replay a decade later at the same grade.
“The boys have trained really well and really hard, so they are looking forward it,” McShane said.
“There is a freshness there, it is new type of challenge. They are playing a really good brand of hurling. They are a young team, fast and move the ball well.,” he said of Portaferry.
“It is a different challenge than we would have had before with the other Down champions.”
Aside from an injury to Jack Cassidy over the weekend, McShane confirms the management team will otherwise have a full hand to pick from and with the u-19 winning team pushing more players under the management’s radar the champions have never been in a stronger position.
“We have had a couple of niggly injuries with a couple of players that has held them back a bit from training,” he said.
“The influx of the young players coming in this year, it has really freshened things up and it has made our job of picking the team even more difficult that it has ever been. It’s a great headache and one we are delighted to have.”