Last chance at glory for Down trio?
Three of Down’s long-standing foot soldiers are engaged in a race against the clock to be fit for the Ulster final against Donegal later this month.
Benny Coulter, Liam Doyle and Dan Gordon have been battling injuries lately but the incentive to participate in what they believe might be their last opportunity to win a provincial medal is currently helping to push them above and beyond the call of duty on the training ground.
Coulter and Doyle were introduced as late substitutes in the semi-final win over Monaghan while Gordon is still recovering from injury but has been making good progress.
For Doyle, a return to county action ends a long period in the wilderness and his brief spell on the park against Eamonn McEnaney’s side has encouraged him to bring his fitness to a new level for the decider.
“I’m 31 now and maybe I won’t have too many more chances to win an Ulster medal.
“I regard it as a great honour to put on the Down jersey and if James McCartan finds that he has a role for me in the final, then I will be only too happy to fulfil it,” says Doyle.
He has played in a variety of positions at county level and his experience could help underpin the side when the heat comes is applied, as it inevitably will be, by a Donegal side anxious to make it back to back Ulster crowns.
“Dan, Benny and me were involved with Down when we reached the final nine years ago but we have not had a sniff of that since.
“Now we’re very keen to make up for lost time and I think the massive effort we put in during the second-half against Monaghan shows just how much we wanted to get into the final,” asserts Doyle.
It was the provincial dominance of Tyrone and Armagh for the best part of the past decade that thwarted Down’s ongoing efforts to end an Ulster title famine that stretches back to 1994.
“It’s great to be back in the final. We know that we are in for a battle against Donegal who will be favourites but we are looking forward to it,” says Doyle.
His long-standing hunger for Ulster honours is shared by fellow-veterans Coulter and Gordon.
“Five minutes before half-time against Monaghan I was speaking with Doyler on the bench and we agreed that the match was over as they were leading by nine points,” recalls Coulter.
“But the team staged the best comeback in all my years of involvement. Now we’re all fired up for the final and obviously we old hands know that this could be last chance saloon.”
Gordon, conspicuous by his absence from the side of late, believes that Down’s resolve and character will be put to the test against Jim McGuinness’s side.
“They will be going into this game on the back of wins over Cavan, Derry and Tyrone and that’s an impressive record by any standards. But we have renewed belief now and that will stand to us. We are very keen to put Down back on top again,” says the Loughinisland clubman.