THE loss of Benny Coulter from Down’s attack will serve as a double-edged sword, Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan has warned ahead of Sunday’s first round clash between the counties in Brewster Park.
“Down believe that they have a great chance of getting to an Ulster final,” Canavan said at the Fermanagh press night.
“Once the draw was made, Down supporters would have said that, that they feel this is an ideal opportunity for them to reach an Ulster final.
“I have no doubt the fact that Benny’s not playing would be used as a motivating factor. He may not be able to play in the first round, but they will be wanting to win this one so that he can play in the semi-final or final.”
As someone who played alongside Coulter in Railway Cup for Ulster and Ireland teams in the International Rules series, he is ideally placed to assess just how much the injured Mayobridge man will be missed.
“I don’t think you need me to tell you of the quality of footballer that Benny Coulter (right) is, you only have to see him playing every year for the past nine or ten years.
“He’s played for Ulster, for Ireland, he’s been exceptional. The way James [McCartan] has been nurturing him this year, he was preparing him for the Championship. He’s a massive loss for Down, there’s no doubt about it.
“You don’t like to see anybody getting injured, but it may give Fermanagh the edge, on the other hand it may give Down the added edge of players standing up and showing leadership, and that may happen. Who knows, it might work either way.”
Back in 2009, Ross Carr brought his Down team to Brewster Park, a game Fermanagh edged out with three late frees from Ryan Carson.
That result will not be of much relevance, explained Canavan; “It will serve Down well in that they will know they are not going into a place where they won the last time they played. No doubt James McCartan will remind them of that fact.
“They know it’s not an easy place to go and play football, so they are going to be ready and they are going to prepare for that.”
For all that though, after the two teams stand for the anthem and the ball is thrown in, it will count for nothing, insists the Tyrone legend.
“I would say it’s of very little significance. I know we’ll not be talking about it, I haven’t heard our players talking much about it. It’s a completely different Down team and a different Fermanagh team as well.”
In taking over in late November as the Erne county manager, Canavan was left with precious time to assemble and prepare his charges, yet in the middle of a year in which they achieved promotion, he declared himself happy with the job so far.
“I would like to see from where we began there has definitely been progress made. I suppose there had to be, because in terms of fitness, in terms of strength and conditioning and coming together as a team, we were at a low starting point. In terms of attitude to training, it has been very good.
“From the start of the National League to the end of it, despite the fact Wicklow beat us in Croke Park, I would say we were a much-improved team, compared to where we were at the start.
“Getting promoted was our target. Now that the league is over, we set our eyes on Down.”
That league campaign ended on the one sour note of the season, a rather tame loss to Wicklow in the league final.
The overall experience was worth it though, even if the pain of defeat stung the squad at the time, says their manager.
“For a number of them it was their first time in Croke Park, so it does take a bit of getting used to. Some of them would feel it did affect them and that they didn’t play to their full potential.
“It was very good preparation from that point of view and to come up against a team that were playing the type of football that Wicklow were playing that day was good for our boys as well and they posed plenty of problems for us. Some of them we dealt with well, some of them we didn’t.
“The fact that we lost the game If we had won it, we might have been going in blind into the Championship thinking everything was going great and we had no cracks to cover up. You obviously learn more from a defeat and look at yourself more – I’d like to think we and the players have done that.”