Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

All-star Coulter leaps to defence of Down boss McCartan

Under pressure: Down manager James McCartan is feeling the heat after the county’s defeat to Kildare in the Championship
Under pressure: Down manager James McCartan is feeling the heat after the county’s defeat to Kildare in the Championship

Down All-Star Benny Coulter has launched a stern defence of James McCartan's record as county manager, while admitting that he does not know what the future holds for the Mourne boss.

Some within the camp are expecting McCartan to step down in the near future, perhaps even this weekend.

If he does, he will bring an end to the second-longest managerial reign in inter-county football management, having assumed control in the autumn of 2009. Only Tyrone's Mickey Harte has been in the job longer.

Coulter (32), produced some brilliant football during the Championship, and when Down were floundering against Kildare, he provided the most robust leadership of the team. Although he initially said he would be keen to play for another season, he said on his joint radio chat show with retired Down player John Clarke: "A lot can happen between this year and next year."

He posed some telling questions: "Who is going to be there, who is not going to be there? What management team is going to be there? Will James be there? Is the manager going to want me playing?

"I still think I am good enough to play for Down. People have been pretty quick to write me off over the past six months because I wasn't playing. But they don't know what I am doing in training; they don't know how I am playing for my own club Mayobridge.

"I still think I am one of the top players in my club and I still think I am one of the top players in Down football."

Down's season was disappointing this year, with their failure to bounce back up to Division One.

What initially appeared to be a promising Championship, opening with a draw away to Tyrone, ended with a demoralising qualifier defeat to Kildare.

However, Coulter feels McCartan has had to deal with an unrealistic level of expectation in the county, and was a victim of his own success in reaching the All-Ireland final in his first season of 2010, when they were beaten by Cork by a single point.

"Obviously, we have lost Martin Clarke and he was a massive miss to us," explained Ulster's leading goalscorer in Championship football.

"The stuff that Marty brought to training sort of left when he went. Then with John Clarke and Ronan Sexton retiring, Danny Hughes quitting, Ronan Murtagh and boys like that we have lost down through the years.

"I think we have been punching above our weight over the last few years. I know we got to quarter-finals and fourth rounds and got to a couple of Ulster finals, but we haven't won them."

He added: "We have been in Division One the last few seasons and only were relegated last year so I definitely feel we have been fighting above our weight.

"I said to people when they were giving James grief, 'Listen, this man has done great for Down football'. I don't know what the future holds for James."

McCartan's willingness to stand in the firing line has also brought much admiration from Coulter, who continued: "James, so many times, has come out and taken the flak when he could have lambasted players and said how bad they were.

"But he comes out after a game to do interviews and he takes all the abuse. All the abuse goes towards him and people forget that James McCartan has two All-Ireland medals.

"He has achieved more for Down football than most players that have ever played for Down and he does take the flak. It's been a tough year."

Seamus McClean, chairman of the Down Supporters' Club, has stated he would personally favour McCartan to stay, although it could be unlikely.

"I am very happy with James McCartan and have been for the last five years," he said. "I would love James to continue and I agree 100% with Benny Coulter."

In recent weeks there have been suggestions that Down might look outside the county for a future manager, something that McClean feels would be a wrong move.

He commented: "I wouldn't like to see an outside manager. When you look around, you have to ask how many outside managers have lifted a Sam Maguire Cup?

"There are just two; Eugene McGee with Offaly and John O'Mahony, who managed Galway. None of the big counties, none of the counties that lift Sam Maguire on a regular basis, have ever brought in outside managers.

"James conducts himself well as a manager.

"You get some managers of some counties and they are not the full shilling.

"They don't behave well on the line."

McCartan could not be contacted yesterday, while Down chairman Seamus Walsh was not returning calls.

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