Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Down need a better focus for Championship: Coulter

As the public relations effort begins to crank up with the beginning of the National League in clear sight, it was a throwback to days of yore to hear Benny Coulter say that Down's priorities will lie with getting themselves right for the hard ground of Championship time.

“I was talking to a few of the boys there the other day,” Coulter commented.

“And I suppose over this last couple of years we have maybe focussed too much on staying in division one instead of getting our systems ready and getting ourselves ready for the Championship.”

He continued, “If it took being relegated, so be it as long as we are ready for the Championship and we knew our gameplan, knew what everybody was doing instead of going out getting two points here and there, saying we stayed in division one but we haven't got a system in place.

“We are going to have to look at that rather than concentrating on staying in that division.”

Such a viewpoint is unorthodox in the modern era, when it is widely thought and proven that league success can propel a team to greater heights in the Championship.

However, Coulter first played Championship football for Down back in 2001 and time is running out.

He tells a story of meeting the then-selector Aidan O'Rourke prior to the Championship first round clash against Fermanagh last year and how O'Rourke was delighted with his form.

That Monday evening, Coulter broke his ankle playing for Mayobridge against Bryansford.

“It definitely set me back a lot and my season really ended there,” he recounts.

“It wasn't until I came back to the club, maybe five or six weeks when we got to the semi-final of the Championship — we got to the final — that I got back to fitness. It took me longer than I thought.”

And, he makes no bones about what he thinks Down should prioritise this season.

“We could go and win the National League this year and nobody would remember it but if you go on and do well in the All-Ireland, people would definitely remember it.

“I haven't spoken to James [McCartan] about it — he probably feels different about it, but the league isn't the be-all and end-all of things.

Much like the McKenna Cup, Coulter feels that there is room for experimentation through the league, when he says, “You have to try a couple of systems to see which is best, see how you can handle the pressure of playing in a certain system, who can handle it and who can't, to get our shop in order for the Championship.”

--

Bredagh team-manager Eamonn Mulvenna says he hopes that the Down County Board will re-introduce an intermediate hurling championship for this year’s campaign.

Mulvaney made his comments in the wake of Bredagh’s heartbreaking All-Ireland Club junior hurling championship semi-final defeat by British champions Fullen Gaels on Sunday, at Coolock in Dublin .

After winning the Down junior championship last year — after which they went on to lift the Ulster crown — Bredagh would be entitled to promotion to a higher level in this year’s Down campaign.

“Ideally, we would like if the Down intermediate hurling championship was re-introduced this year,” said Mulvaney after his troops had shipped a 1-12 to 1-4 defeat by their Manchester-based opponents.

“But that’s up in the air at the moment, and the Down Couny Board will have to make a decision on it.”