Benny Coulter has been a fixture in the Down side for over 11 years yet he has never played against Kerry in a major championship tie.
On Saturday though Mayobridge clubman Coulter (pictured right) will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with the Kingdom in the All Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park and this is a challenge he is viewing with considerable relish.
Taken off as a precautionary measure after suffering a calf injury against Sligo last weekend when the result was a foregone conclusion, the versatile Coulter is emphatic that Kerry now form the biggest obstacle that Down will have faced this year to date.
“When we lost to Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final we were not particularly looking forward to going into the qualifiers but those wins over Longford, Offaly and Sligo have given us a great lift and we can’t wait for Saturday to come round,” says Coulter.
“All the players are very keen to prove themselves against Kerry — this is an opportunity for us to measure ourselves against the best.”
The Down squad still harbour vivid memories of their last visit to Croke Park for the National League Division Two final in April when they lost to Armagh.
“We did not play up to expectations that day but Saturday’s is a much bigger game for us,” says Coulter. “We all know that Kerry tend to reserve their best form for the latter stages of the All Ireland Championship so we will have to be prepared for anything.”
For many years he has been Down’s prime source of scores but the return of Martin Clarke from Australia, the leadership of skipper Ambrose Rogers, a much tighter defensive mechanism and the quiet authority and motivational skills of manager James McCartan are factors he views as crucial to the team’s progress this year.
“I can say with all honesty that this is the best Down side in which I personally have played. There is a great spirit among the players. Everyone is very focused on his job and there are certainly no prima donnas,” states Coulter.
Down’s setback at Headquarters in April was their third depressing result there since the county last won the Sam Maguire Cup in 1994. The lost to Wexford in the All Ireland qualifiers three years ago and were beaten by Offaly in the National League in 2004.
“It’s hard to believe that Down have not won a major match at Croke Park in 16 years but there it is. We will not only be competing against Kerry, but against recent history,” he says.