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Danny Hughes pays tribute as Benny Coulter calls time on Down

By Declan Bogue

Fellow Down All-Star Danny Hughes has reacted to news of Benny Coulter's retirement from inter-county football, stating that the Mayobridge man is "irreplaceable."

The retirement of mercurial Down player Coulter ensures that the Gaelic football world will surely be a less colourful place in 2015.

The 32-year-old is set to play on with his club Mayobridge, but it is understood that he was unable to give the level of commitment expected by incoming Down manager, Jim McCorry.

He retires with an All-Ireland minor medal from 1999, when they defeated Mayo in the decider. He also captained the Mournemen in the 2010 All-Ireland final, when they lost to Cork by a single point.

Coulter released a statement yesterday, which read: "It is with a heavy heart that I have made the decision to retire from inter-county football.

"I have enjoyed immensely my time as an inter-county footballer, but after 15 seasons I have decided that the time has come to allow a younger breed of Down footballer the chance to make their mark."

Coulter expressed gratitude to all involved in Mayobridge, adding: "I will continue to give my best in the sky blue of Mayobridge for as long as team mentors feel I can make a positive contribution."

Hughes said: "Benny was top-class.

"When we were absolutely rubbish, he was one of the few top-class players we had. Unfortunately there are no more Benny Coulters coming through and he is irreplaceable. You can't replace Benny.

"The likes of him aren't there in Down, at least at the minute. Not only did he fulfil his underage reputation, but he turned into being a great player even for Ireland. And we got to see it on a week-in, week-out basis."

Hughes also feels that Coulter's strengths and adaptability were not utilised in the best way possible at the end of his career.

"I think that he could have been used a lot more last year. He should have been used at midfield. Benny, by his own admission, might say that he no longer has the searing pace he used to have.

"But I still think he could have offered a fantastic midfield option last year which he didn't really have that opportunity."

He said Coulter's retirement bears similarities with that of Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh, who called it a day last week after a glorious hurling career with the Cats that tapered out with reduced playing time.

"If you are putting in all that time and effort and maybe you are not getting full games, or if you are not being picked on merit from your performances, then what's the point?" asked Hughes.

"Given the levels of commitment, five or six days a week at county level, you are expected to be there every day in November, December, right through, and then perhaps you are being pigeon-holed into 10, 15 minutes here and there - why wouldn't you retire?"

Later in his statement, Coulter paid tribute to Down county managers Pete McGrath who handed him his debut, Paddy O'Rourke, Ross Carr and DJ Kane, as well as James McCartan, under whom he came so close to his finest hour.

On that, he said: "In 2010, I was privileged and honoured to lead my county in the All-Ireland final and I will always regret that we failed to deliver on the day. I am indebted to James McCartan for the support he gave me in the five years that he was team manager.

"I had played with James and it was an absolute honour to have worked with him as manager."

He finished with: "I wish the entire present Down panel and manager Jim McCorry every success in the season ahead, those boys are like my brothers and I will be supporting them fully throughout the year ahead."

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