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Coulter set to miss Down title challenge

By Declan Bogue

The fickle nature of football and the human anatomy was the main topic of conversation at the launch of the 2012 Ulster Gaelic Football Championships when it emerged that Down’s Benny Coulter is out of their opener against Fermanagh and possibly the duration of the competition.

Coulter sustained an ankle injury in a club game for Mayobridge against Bryansford in Newcastle on Monday night.

Down coach James McCartan’s chirpy demeanour was obviously dampened by the news that his most dangerous attacker and one of the team’s main leaders will play no part when they travel to face Fermanagh in Brewster Park on June 3.

An already tricky-looking fixture has just become a whole lot harder for them.

“It doesn’t sound good,” McCartan admitted.

“There’s no point in saying otherwise. He potentially has a broken ankle, so I assume we’re planning without him.

“It’s a huge blow for him. We had been trying to tread carefully with Benny this year and hold him back when he wanted to play and only introducing him as a substitute, hoping that we would get the best out of him in the summer, so that’s disappointing for Down GAA.

“I feel for him because he’s been toiling for many a year to try and get his hands on the Ulster Championship and hasn’t been able to. Like us all, his chances are running out.”

McCartan continued: “Look, if we can manage to stay in the competition — which is a big if — I would dearly love if he could make an appearance in the Ulster Championship at some stage.”

Last year Coulter endured an injury-plagued season, struggling throughout with a hamstring injury that never quite cleared up.

In their shock defeat to Armagh in the Morgan Athletic Grounds, he was withdrawn late on in the game in obvious discomfort.

“The way Benny plays, he takes a lot of tackles and ships a lot of heavy abuse,” said McCartan.

“It was just a case of keeping him fresh with a view of getting a big summer out of him, but obviously our best laid plans have not worked out.”

McCartan heard that Coulter had planted his foot on the ground and his studs got stuck in the turf.

He added: “I have left Benny a couple of messages and to be honest I know how he would be feeling so I don’t want to annoy him.”

On the plus side, McCartan’s Burren clubmate Declan Rooney is on the comeback trail, having featured for the St Mary’s.

“Decky Rooney is back playing a bit of club football, he has been out for a long time so he’s just looking for game time anywhere he can get it. He’s back on the field which is a plus.”

It was a lavish Championship launch at the Titanic Building, held in the room with the recreation of the famous staircase that featured prominently in the Titanic movie.

At the beginning of the presentation, Ulster PRO Oliver Galligan turned to introduce the players and managers who missed their cue to come sweeping down the steps.

When no players or managers appeared, Galligan lightened the mood by leaning into the microphone and saying: “I hope they haven’t gone down.”

Director General Paraic Duffy then addressed the assembled.

“In Ulster in particular, of the seven championships we have, there are none as competitive as the Ulster Senior Championship,” he said.

“It’s the time of the year when all nine Ulster counties can aspire to at least reach an Ulster final, and can dream of winning it.”

As a proud Monaghan man, he nailed his colours to the mast.

“I will be in Clones on May 27, and Liam Bradley (Antrim manager) won’t mind me saying this, supporting my county Monaghan and hoping they can overturn Antrim in the first round.

“If we win two matches, it takes us to the Ulster final, and it looks the exact same for Antrim.

“That’s what this Championship is all about.”

The last couple of years have ushered in a number of very proactive initiatives to attract punters through the gates.

Even though the GAA has always been able to trade off the loyalty that fans feel for their county, they have been made aware that they need to be tuned in to other sporting attractions, something Duffy was keen to emphasise in a year of stiff competition.

“We start on May 20, the same weekend as the Heineken Cup final, the Champions League, (afterwards) there’s Euro 2012, and there’s the Olympics.

“There are challenges there, but there’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said.

“We have great games, great supporters, a great excitement and buzz around our competitions that I believe nobody else can match.”

Duffy continued: “In Croke Park, we are putting together the most comprehensive marketing and promotional campaign than we have ever done before, and I suppose tonight is the beginning of that.

“The presentation of tonight’s event is on a different level to anything we have experienced before”, he concluded.

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