THE bookmakers have installed them as heavy favourites, their whole side is dripping with talent, yet Portumna will approach tomorrow’s All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final against Dunloy with a degree of wariness.
Back in 2004, the Galway club were fresh from their maiden county title the autumn before. But their All-Ireland dreams ran aground when they collided with Dunloy in last four. It’s an episode manager Johnny Kelly has been reminding his players of.
“The favourites thing is something we’ve never dwelt with. We take it in our stride and concentrate on our hurling. We’d be methodical and professional in our preparations. We’ll give Dunloy as much respect as we’d give Ballyhale Shamrocks and Newtownshandrum.
“It’d be very foolish to be talking about anything like a three-in-a-row now. We’ve seen before how you can get caught at this juncture.”
Still, despite Kelly’s protestations, it’s difficult to see how Portumna can be overturned here. Their side is packed with stars, none more so than their shining attacking light Joe Canning. In recent weeks Canning has been hurling up a storm in the Fitzgibbon Cup for LIT and Kelly admits that his form is a huge bonus.
“It’s a big plus for ourselves and LIT at the minute that he’s in such great condition. He’s worked very hard on his fitness this year and his ball work. He’s a lot of training under his belt and is in great shape.
“He’s getting great scores as well. It’s always a worry when he’s such a busy schedule at this time of year yet thankfully he’s come through and is fit. But we do try to spread around the scoring as much as we can. If you become too one-dimensional it’ll be easier for side to counteract that.
“Damian Hayes is in great form, and the likes of Andrew Smith and Kevin Hayes are well able to take scores as well.”
The rest of Portumna’s side are also in good condition. Once last year’s marathon Galway championship concluded, they were given a break until Christmas and returned in the New Year with renewed vigour.
“We badly needed a break after the Galway final,” says Kelly. “If we were to continue with our training regime, it would have been counter-productive.
“The Galway championship went on longer this year and once that was over, we took a good break. The boys took full advantage but they deserved to.
“They worked on their fitness in the gym before Christmas and it meant they were in good shape when they came back to us on January 3. We played a number of challenge matches as well but obviously the weather conditions were appalling.
“The frost in particular made it hard to play games and when we did get games, the fog caused us trouble. But you never know how well you’re going until you go out in championship. Dunloy is the test now.”
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