By Shaun Casey
LAST year’s 19-point pummelling at the hands of Sleacht Néill still rankles with the Portaferry players and they’re hoping to right those wrong this weekend.
They take on Antrim champions Cushendall in the Ulster semi-final in Armagh on Sunday and the Down men are keen to make an impact in Ulster.
“I wasn’t there last year but I think the players know themselves they didn’t do themselves justice,” said Portaferry boss Gerard McGrattan.
“It probably was a big challenge for them tying to regroup after winning the championship and everything that comes with it.
“Sleacht Néill have been there or thereabouts for the last ten years playing at the top level so it shows the standard that we need to try and get to and we’re trying to close that gap.
“Then Cushendall on Sunday, they were Ulster champions in 2018 so they have a lot of pedigree and a lot of top players, so it’ll be a big challenge for our guys.
“It’s four weeks since we won Down and it’s going fine. We’re back to the same routine we had leading up to the county final. The one problem we have is pitches, we don’t have a facility with lights.
“We’re using the Dub in Belfast, the Red Hand in Downpatrick to get training under floodlights then we’re on our own pitch at the weekend. That’s been a challenge but it’s a nice problem to have this time of the year.
“We were back training the following Wednesday night after the county final. Our goal was to win back-to-back county titles and then challenge in Ulster and do ourselves justice which is something we didn’t do last year.
“That’s been a big focus for the lads, and I know Cushendall are going to be a massive challenge and they’ll be hot favourites, so we’ll just have to give it our best.”
Portaferry and Cushendall met twice in the league and McGrattan’s men are currently unbeaten against their Antrim opponents, however he insists they won’t be reading too much into league games.
“The league itself, because you’re without the county players, it’s never really been a yardstick for where the rest of the season goes and Cushendall would tell you that as well.
“In both games, both teams didn’t have their strongest team out or their strongest team available to them so I don’t think those league matches will count for very much to be honest.
“We have a few niggles but nothing that’s going to affect team selection at this point. Preparations are going well; we’ve had a couple of training sessions this week, so we’ll just take the next game as it comes.
“We would be underdogs and I know people will say it’s a 50-50 game but for our boys, they’ve won a few championships now and never got to the Ulster final.
“In 2020, there was Covid and last year we didn’t do ourselves justice. So, this year we’re going to have to try and perform on the big stage.”