St Patrick’s Portaferry have been crowned Ulster Senior Club Hurling Champions for the first time in their history, after they beat favourites Ruairí Og by six points in Sunday’s decider at Owenbeg.
The Down champions had lost eight provincial finals since 1971 but they took command of this one early on, despite playing against a stiff breeze.
Paul Braniff was in great form from the frees and helped the underdogs into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead after 16 minutes.
Cushendall’s best spell of the game came in the second quarter but, in spite of four unanswered points, they looked in trouble trailing by one at the interval.
The Antrim men never really got back to the form which saw them past Loughgiel in the County quarter final despite having forced their way past Dunloy, St Gall’s and Slaughneil in the last round.
Eoghan Sands hit two superb scores from line balls on the restart and when he found the net one-handed after 47 minutes, the Ardsmen had a 1-15 to 0-9 lead which they never looked like giving up.
The last 10 minutes was wave after wave of Cushendall attack but the Portaferry defence repelled them each time to claim a famous victory.
Despite conceding 1-16, the Ruairi Og full back line was outstanding; corner backs Ryan McCambridge and Arron Graffinboth produced outstanding performances.
The introduction of Shane McNaughton made a significant difference to Cushendall’s attack, but, an injury doubt, he was never going to be able to play the whole match.
The fact that Cushendall had to go to a replay against Slaughtneil seemed to count against them and, with the wind in their faces, the Antrim men struggled to come back from behind.
Portaferry: K Keating; C Taggart, C O’Neill, C O’Prey; M Conlan, J Convery, C Coulter (0-2); A Savage, C Mageean; K McGarry (0-1), P Braniff (0-6, 0-5 frees), A O’Prey (0-3); S Mageean (0-1), E Sands (1-3, 0-2 sideline), R Magee. Subs: S Murray for Magee (49 mins), F Rodgers for A O’Prey (59 mins), B Coleman for S Mageean (60 mins).
Cushendall: E Gillan; R McCambridge, M Burke, A Graffin; P McNaughton, P Burke, S Delargy; N McManus (0-5, 0-4 frees), E Campbell (0-2); P McGill, C Carson, K McKeegan (0-1); A McNaughton, D McNaughton (0-1), E Laverty (0-1, free). Subs: S McNaughton for Laverty (h-t), C McNaughton (0-1) for McGill (36 mins).
Referee: E Hassan (Derry)