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Home truths led to Down's rally

By John Campbell

Benny Coulter admits he endured the "worst possible" preparation for the Ulster Championship.

The iconic Down ace, now in his 15th season with the Mourne County, was relieved when manager James McCartan named him in the team to face Laois in the final Division Two league game last month.

But Coulter lasted just 22 minutes before falling victim to a black card.

"It was very frustrating," recalls Coulter. "I had hoped to get a full game under my belt having had little or no action in the league up until then and I thought that I had blown my chances of championship selection when I was sent off. It was the worst possible preparation for the Ulster series."

But his introduction as a second-half substitute at Healy Park, Omagh, last Sunday proved the catalyst for Down's stunning recovery against a Tyrone side that seemed as if they were about to gallop down the home straight and record a handsome victory.

When the Mayobridge man slotted in alongside Kevin McKernan in midfield after Ambrose Rogers and Peter Turley had been withdrawn, Down took control of the game and were only denied victory because of Sean Cavanagh's last-gasp point from a free.

Now Coulter is totally consumed with playing a part in what he hopes will prove a home win in Saturday's replay at Pairc Esler, Newry.

Down's first-half performance last Sunday, though, remains fresh in his mind and serves as a warning for episode two.

And he reveals the players did some straight talking in the dressing-room at half-time with manager James McCartan encouraging them to express their feelings.

"It wasn't good," said Coulter of the situation at the interval when Down trailed 1-5 to 0-3.

"It was more the players having a go at each other at half-time. James left it to the boys to have a word with one another.

"The boys were disappointed and they knew they hadn't done themselves justice. Even from the bench, there was no energy from the lads, none at all. They all looked dead."

Coulter will be 32 next month and no Down player harbours a more intense yearning for an Ulster medal given that he has endured championship heartbreak far too frequently during his career.

He is nonetheless prepared to give his all for the cause yet again as he highlighted on Sunday but he acknowledges that Tyrone will now come to Newry conscious that they can improve on their performance.

"They will maybe feel they can do better, possibly in terms of defending," says Coulter.

"But it's up to us to focus on our own game. We certainly can't afford to be as poor as we were in the first-half last Sunday, that's for certain."

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