All Ireland Football Championship: We won’t freeze in Croke Park furnace, says Down star Benny Coulter
The notion that Down might ‘freeze’ in the white heat of Croke Park on Sunday has been firmly rubbished by the players themselves.
Unlike their opponents Cork, Down have not been in any provincial or All-Ireland finals over the past few years and while the Rebels will undoubtedly carry more experience because of their involvement in major showpiece games, their Ulster opponents remain largely unfazed by the challenge that confronts them.
No-one is perhaps better qualified to assess the mood within the Down camp right now than Benny Coulter, who has sampled more bad days than good since making his debut 11 years ago.
“Quite frankly, I think any speculation in relation to the possibility of us freezing is ludicrous,” says Coulter. “I have been amazed myself at the calm manner in which these Down boys have been going about their training and general preparation for the game. There is a very relaxed mood within the camp but that does not mean we are taking anything for granted. In fact, the calmer we are the better we will play, I feel.”
And if the fervour and passion that is accompanying the team’s build-up has reached new levels in recent days, Coulter makes the point that this will not discomfit the players.
“The management team have told us that there are aspects of the build-up we must embrace and we are doing just this. We are in a very good position and we want to make the most of it. We certainly have no intention of leaving either our form or our attitude in the Croke Park dressing-room,” insists Mayobridge clubman Coulter.
While Coulter, goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh, Ronan Murtagh and wing-forward Danny Hughes have played in Ulster finals, they, like the rest of their colleagues, will be sampling the special atmosphere of All-Ireland final day for the first time.
Hughes believes that the confidence level which has been fermented in the side since their surge through the qualifiers commenced with a low-key victory over Longford at Pairc Esler, Newry will sustain them in the heat of battle against the Leesiders.
“Obviously Cork have a head start on us in terms of competing in All-Ireland finals but they will be under big pressure themselves to deliver this time because of their recent failures.
“It remains to be seen how they will respond to this but I would be confident that we will be strong mentally on the day,” points out Hughes.
McVeigh, anxious to keep a clean sheet in the biggest game of his career, stresses that the manner in which manager James McCartan has imparted his own experiences of All-Ireland final day to the players is proving the best preparation possible.
“Wee James has been there and done it all. He knows the ropes and he will certainly have us in the right frame of mind,” observes McVeigh.
And Murtagh, a swashbuckling marksman in the last four games in which he was sprung from the bench, is not only hopeful that he can continue this trend on Sunday but fully expects Down to flourish at Headquarters.
“We have played there three times already this year — against Armagh in the Division Two National League final and then against Kerry and Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final — so we are very familiar with the surroundings.
“This of course will be the first occasion for us to play in front of a full house but to tell you the truth we all can’t wait for Sunday to come along,” enthuses Murtagh.