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Burns can't call on Coulter or Clarke for McKenna Cup

By Declan Bogue

Down manager Eamonn Burns will have to plan for the early stages of his reign without the attacking talents of 2010 All-Stars Benny Coulter and Marty Clarke after revealing that neither man will be available for the Dr McKenna Cup.

Speaking at the launch of the competition, which places the Mournemen in Section B against St Mary's College, Donegal and Fermanagh, the Bryansford man admitted that a preliminary talk with Coulter was fruitless, while he is giving Clarke some space to re-establish himself with Queen's.

Queen's are managed by former Down supremo James McCartan, who had Burns as a member of his backroom team a few seasons ago.

"I have spoken to Benny and he has some work commitments at the minute. He hasn't committed yet," admitted Burns.

"Marty is involved with Queen's University and I am speaking to James McCartan about the progress he is making. I am going to keep an eye on Marty throughout the McKenna Cup and see how he is progressing and make a decision then. But I haven't spoken to him at all.

"I think he is managing his medical condition, but as I haven't spoken to him, I don't want to say too much."

Clarke suffers from Addington's Disease. The 28-year-old left behind a career in Aussie Rules when the condition afflicted him.

Burns also revealed to the Belfast Telegraph that he has his backroom team already assembled.

Aidan Branigan is a long-time coaching collaborator of Burns, and Gerard Colgan of An Riocht is the other selector. Burns added: "The other two fellas will do most of the coaching, along with myself. I don't foresee any more additions at this stage."

Burns has been able to retain the considerable services of Ulster Rugby's strength and conditioning expert, Ciaran Sloan.

"He is doing a bit of on-field stuff as well, his role has been extended," he said.

"Ciaran was involved last year, and he was doing a lot of work for us over the close season with the likes of Benny McArdle, who is coming back from injury, and doing his strength and conditioning. He has been in place for well over a year."

With the ban on collective training lifted last night, Burns commented: "We are just finding our feet and trying to get a panel together.

"There are some boys away on holiday, others coming off a club season and they want a bit of a break."

Down fans will await January 3, when they play their first game of the Burns era in the McKenna Cup.

Once the butt of a joke that not even the McKennas still attend McKenna Cup games, the competition has become highly attractive with a crowd of 8,463 attending the Armagh v Tyrone opener last January.

"It's an opportunity to have a look at players, to get as many games as we can. If that means we get to the semi-final, we take it from there," said Burns.

"We use the McKenna Cup as preparation for the league.

"We will get a look at some of the players in a competitive environment. Hopefully we will get a look at some players in a few challenge games before the McKenna Cup begins."

Having been involved with the panel a couple of years ago as a selector, Burns feels that the players are there to mount an assault.

"There is a good nucleus of players there at the minute and of course you are going to try to introduce some fresh blood onto the panel. It is going to take a lot of time and effort, a lot of hard work.

"We are going to try and blend the experienced players with the youth and try and get that right.

"The way the game has progressed, gone are the days when you have 16, 17 players. Your panel has to be extensive if you are going to survive it."

An interesting footnote of the draw is that Derry will now meet Tyrone three times before they clash in the first round of the 2016 Ulster Championship - they will square up in the O'Fiaich Cup, McKenna Cup and the National League.

Belfast Telegraph


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