Ballycran boss Fowler expecting another tight tussle with Portaferry in Down final
FOR the fifth year in a row, Portaferry and Ballycran will battle it out to become Down Senior Hurling champions in Newry on Sunday. The 'Crans have held the upper hand in three of the last four deciders, with their 2020 defeat the only blot on their record.
There's never much between the two sides, as the recent history has shown. Seven points has been the biggest margin of the last four finals while the 2020 showpiece required a replay and last year needed extra-time to declare a winner.
Ballycran's joint manager Jamie Fowler is expecting nothing less this weekend and anticipates another extremely close encounter.
“Last year, myself and James Henry Hughes, it was our first year in charge as managers, we've been involved as selectors as well, so we've been about the squad,” said Fowler.
“Last year it went to extra-time, there was men put off, it had everything for a championship final and we came through in the end but there was a puck of a ball between the two teams, and it usually is very, very tight.
“We're expecting the same come Sunday and Portaferry would be the same, nobody is expecting a walkover. We know what it's going to take to get over the line and we just have to put in a performance.
“There are no secrets between the two teams, it seems to be the way that it's going now at the minute where we're lucky enough that we're getting into finals nearly every year and we know each other inside out.”
Of course, Sunday won't be the first time they've faced off this season. Portaferry came out on top when the sides clashed in the group stages of the competition, but Fowler believes that will have little impact on Sunday and Ballycran knew they'd get another crack at their rivals.
“We already played at the start of the championship, Portaferry came out on top but we're looking at the ninth of October. Like you do every year, you come out and you set your sights on the championship final so we're just happy to be there,” added Fowler.
“They came out, I think it was six or seven points they ended up beating us by, but we were targeting the final and we just wanted to improve game after game, and we've steadily got better as the competition has gone on. We're in a decent place going in here on Sunday.
“You never want to be beat, especially in championship. Portaferry have a lot of under 20s that were part of the Down panel that won the All-Ireland (B), so they have good, young players coming through and I suppose we're the same.
“We have three of four new boys on to the panel and you need that every yet. I suppose that (earlier clash) gave us a chance to look at those players that we may not have seen too much of before.
“I'm not being disrespectful to the fixture, but we knew, win or lose, we were still in the competition and our aim was to get to the final. Maybe at times it (the round robin) takes the sting out of a full-blooded championship game.
“But probably in the back of our heads we knew we would meet Portaferry again somewhere down the line and here it is again on Sunday.”