Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Down pay price for bad finishing

Benny Coulter's vast experience can bolster Down’s bid to stay in Division One when they meet Kildare on Sunday
Benny Coulter's vast experience can bolster Down’s bid to stay in Division One when they meet Kildare on Sunday

Statistics do not necessarily tell the whole story in relation to a particular game or, indeed, to an overall league campaign.

But chilling figures will now serve as a warning to Down manager James McCartan that, unless his team can sustain their effort for the full 70-plus minutes in their do or die confrontation with Kildare on Sunday then Division Two football will become a reality for next term.

Down’s inability to remain a force in matches is vividly illustrated by the fact that against Kerry they scored only one point in the first-half, in the confrontation with Dublin they registered just two second-half points and matched this modest return in their meeting with Donegal at Ballybofey.

Not surprisingly, Down lost all three games and, damning as these figures are, the fact that Paul McComiskey will be missing from the attack further erodes the hope that the trend can be halted.

McCartan is aware of his team’s deficiencies but finds himself confronted by increasing limited selection options as the seasons unravels.

“We have lost some of our games by quite narrow margins and had we been able to take our chances the situation might have been different at this stage,” concedes McCartan.

“The absence of key players is a big blow but we have to go with what we have. We know this game against Kildare represents our last hope of staying up and we need to give it everything. They are already through to the semi-finals but that does not mean that they will be easing up.”

In their last outing against Dublin, it was a failure to protect their possession after a rousing start to the game that saw the wheels come off the Down wagon.

County PRO Paul Rooney belives that, while the team has been nothing short of combative and resolute, they have not always enjoyed a rub of the green.

“I know teams will bemoan their luck but when you think of the way in which we stayed in touch with Tyrone until the dying minutes of that game and then the way in which we lost to Cork with the last kick of the tie you will see where I am coming from,” says Rooney.

But he admits a lack of sustained fire-power during games has not been helpful to the Mourne county’s cause.

“When you consider the scoring statistics, it can be seen where our problems lie,” he adds.

Yet in Mark Poland, Conor Laverty, Donal O’Hare and Benny Coulter, Down have four forwards well capable of gracing elite GAA company, players who are adept at taking scores from all angles and distances.

The big challenge facing McCartan’s team on Sunday will be to garner first-phase possession and protect it sufficiently to allow their front men the facility to put scores on the board.

It’s a big ask but by no means an impossible task given that Down have home advantage and a massive incentive to go through the pain barrier and, indeed, every other barrier to ensure their survival.

The experienced Coulter, who has served Down for over a decade with nothing in the way of significant honours to show for his unstinting efforts, is in the vanguard of the team’s bid to retain their pride and do things in what county secretary Sean Og McAteer refers to as “the Down way.”

Coulter elaborates: “We are a proud county and we had won five All Ireland titles before Armagh or Tyrone had won a title.

“There is a great tradition here and while we knew at the start of the league that we had to win over the doubters, we knew that this was going to be tough.

“Just how tough has been driven home to us but we will be up for battle on Sunday, that’s for sure.”

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