Benny Coulter has suffered more than his share of disappointments with Down over the years, but yesterday on a hot, sunny afternoon in Ballybofey he wore the broadest of smiles.
Leading Down in the absence of the injured Ambrose Rodgers, he broke Donegal hearts with a stunning man-of-the-match performance as the Mournemen booked a semi-final meeting with defending champions Tyrone next month.
He was here, there and everywhere, leading by example throughout and who else but the Mayobridge man should kill off the Donegal challenge three minutes from the end of extra-time?
“We haven’t won too many championship games in my time, but some of the younger lads have come in and made an impact and there’s a great hunger right through the squad,” he said.
“We wanted to win this match so badly. We wanted to have something to show when we get around to hanging up our boots.
“I suppose in the past I would have stayed close to goal and waited for things to happen, but in the absence of our captain Ambrose Rodgers I felt I had to show some leadership.
“Ambrose has been our leader throughout the Allianz League and it must have been hard for him having to stand watching, so it was vital that we made sure that when he comes back we’re still in the Championship.
“I’ve been playing county football now for 13 or 14 years and have nothing much to show for it.
I’m no different to anyone else in that I would like to win something.”
From the moment Martin Clarke parted the ball to Coulter three minutes from the end of extra-time he had only one thing on his mind.
“From the moment he passed to me I knew I was going for goal and luckily enough it went in,” he added. “I was delighted for our supporters. They are the best in the country and they stick by us in good and bad times alike.”
Coulter deservedly walked away with the man-of-the-match award, but on another day it could well have been Down right-half forward Daniel Hughes.
There were several occasions in normal time when he kept the winners in contention almost single-handedly with crucial points, scores taken with an economy of effort that put many of his colleagues to shame.
“We knew that it was going to be difficult coming here to Ballybofey,” he said. “We made life difficult for ourselves when conceding the two early goals, but fortunately we managed to hit two points in reply and that kept us in touch at half-time. It was vital that we came here and won for we haven’t won a championship away from home for some time, but we’re under no illusions in that we’ve won nothing yet.”
The Down number 10, who was virtually out on his feet at the finish, added: “It’s one game at a time and that means it’s Tyrone next in an Ulster semi-final.”