Ballygalget face biggest battle

ULSTER’S representatives in Sunday’s AIB All-Ireland SHC club semi-final, Ballygalget, have one thing in common with their illustrious opponents Newtownshandrum.

Like there Cork counterparts hurling reigns supreme in their small rural parish of no more than 700 people at the far end of the Ards peninsula.

But, the comparison ends there and the Down champions concede they face an onerous task against the All-Ireland winners of two years ago.

Captain Liam Clarke said: "It's a new thing for us, a big experience for most of our players. Our last time in a semi-final was against Rathnure. A lot of the boys weren't on that panel. It'll be a big task for us on Sunday.''

Representatives of the four semi-finalists along with their counterparts for the football semi-finals which take place on Sunday week were in Dublin yesterday to meet the press. All agree on the difficulty of having to renew their respective challenges after the Christmas break.

While the public perception may be that holders James Stephens from Kilkenny will contest another final, star forward Eoin Larkin expects "a big battle".

"We've been working hard over the last couple of weeks. We came back just after Christmas and we have been setting our sights on Portumna since. I don't think there is much difference going in as reigning champions. It's still an All-Ireland semi-final.''

Newtown captain Brendan Mulcahy takes a different view.

"Hopefully the experience of two years ago will help us. The last time it was a trip into the unknown for us.''

Eugene McEntee, the Portumna captain, concurred. The Galway champions learned some harsh lessons when losing the semi-final two years ago to Antrim representatives Dunloy (who subsequently failed to beat Newtown).

"We have a lot to make up for. We learned a lot from that semi-final. Never underestimate anyone! Two years on it's after giving us a good look at what we have to deal with. We were a young team then. Now, we are more mature. You can't say anything about the two clubs that have won the last two All-Irelands. You have to be up to their standard. It's a tall order to ask of a club, but we have done a lot of work for the last two years, the management have got us ready and we are ready to go against James Stephens.''

McEntee feels the lateness of their domestic campaign (because of league commitments) may actually work to their advantage.

"The hurling really didn't stop. We just took a week or two off and went straight back in training in the New Year.

"The last few weeks have been spent travelling and playing games. We have as much done as we could. Now, it's just a question of relaxing for the next week. And getting the minds right!''

Newtown will be without defender Ger O'Mahony, who faces surgery for a back problem, but John O'Connor is said to be fit to play after recovering from a hand injury.

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