Ballygalget gunning for two in-a-row against familiar foes Portaferry in Down hurling decider
Morgan Fuels Down Senior Hurling Championship final: Portaferry v Ballygalget (tomorrow, Ballycran, 3pm)
IN the claustrophobic three-club world of the Down senior hurling championship, every game is an old-firm derby and the 2017 final serves up the meeting of familiar foes Portaferry and Ballygalget.
After finishing fourth in Antrim's Division One, it was Ballycran (tomorrow's hosts) who began the group stage as the form team but they exited the competition after losing two games that could have gone either way. Meanwhile, Ballygalget topped the group with two wins out of two (both after extra-time), beating Portaferry by a point in the second to secure their place in the final.
That loss meant the last group game between Portaferry and Ballycran became a semi-final shoot-out and the St Patrick's outfit emerged with a 2-13 to 0-15 and take the field tomorrow determined to secure their first title since 2014 and their 21st overall.
Ballygalget also have 20 county titles to their credit and Down manager Marty Mallon – a Portaferry native who has worked with players from both sides - sees tomorrow's decider as “50-50”.
“Ballycran were the form team, but they're always the form team coming into the championship,” said Mallon, who has yet to decide on whether he will continue as the Down hurling manager next season.
“But form means nothing in Down. The games were all tight. Ballycran drew with Ballygalget and it went to extra-time, Portaferry drew with Ballygalget and it went to extra-time and last Sunday there was only four points between Portaferry and Ballycran, so it was tight enough.
“Tomorrow is 50-50, all the matches are 50-50 and it doesn't matter about form. Getting everybody fit is a big thing and I think both sides are at full tilt so it'll be close enough.”
Portaferry finished second in Division Two in Antrim, while Ballygalget placed fifth in Antrim's top flight with four wins from 14 outings. With so little to choose between the teams, the result tomorrow could hinge on the side that holds its nerve and takes crucial chances when the chips are down.
Portaferry's attack is spearheaded by Eoin Sands and the versatile and experienced Paul Braniff while Liverpool-based student Barry Trainor has returned home for the game and has emerged as a ball-winner in the half-forward line.
The defence is marshalled by Caolan Taggart at centre half-back and the Down defender could well be the man earmarked to pick up Ballygalget's Gareth Johnston. ‘Magic' has a track record of producing vital scores in important games and he can count on Danny Toner for support tomorrow.
Ballygalget will be striving for two in-a-row tomorrow, a feat that hasn't been achieved since they completed a three in-a-row back in 2005. Their win last year came in a drab final against Ballycran which wasn't helped by stormy conditions and ended 0-6 to 0-2 in their favour.
“It was a poor final to be fair,” said Mallon.
"Two points for Ballycran is poor by any standards; you are bound to get more than two frees in a game. But tomorrow will be a lot more open, more high-scoring.
“It's wide-open and if it's a good day, it'll be a good game. The first game between the sides was first class and a big factor will be the referee.
“The last day out the referee from Cavan was absolutely superb; he let the game flow and let them tear into it. If the referee lets it go, it could be a good final.”
On his own future Mallon added: “We're not sure yet what's happening.
“We will wait until this is over and then we'll get together and see what's happening. We haven't even discussed it yet.”