Coulter hopes team-mates can keep Down title dream alive
It is doubtful if anyone wants to see Down beat Fermanagh on Sunday more than Benny Coulter — yet the long-serving Mourne county ace will play no part whatsoever in the contest.
A serious ankle injury means that Coulter, so often a productive source of scores for Down, misses out.
But if his colleagues can rise to the occasion and make it a disappointing Ulster Championship baptism for Erne boss Peter Canavan, then there is the possibility that Mayobridge clubman Coulter can still cling to his vision of landing what would be a first provincial medal.
Coulter, 12 years in the Down squad, has already received the results of a further scan on his injury and remains hopeful that, should Down advance in the competition, he may get the opportunity to play a part in ending what has been an 18-year title famine.
It was in 1994 that, under the tutelage of Peter McGrath, Down annexed the Ulster crown before going on to land their fifth All-Ireland title.
Since then, though, Down have largely been anonymous on the Ulster and All-Ireland fronts, although James McCartan did manage to take the side into the 2010 All-Ireland final in his first year in charge when they were unfortunate to lose out by a point to Cork (0-16 to 0-15).
“I’m 30 now and I don’t think I will have that many more chances to win an Ulster medal,” says Coulter.
“Obviously I’m gutted to be missing this game on Sunday but I want to try and be as positive as I can and maybe get some involvement further down the line providing we progress.”
While Down boss McCartan had resigned himself to being without Coulter and Dan Gordon for Sunday’s trip to Brewster Park, Enniskillen, the loss of promising wing-back Niall McParland also through injury is another untimely blow.
And McCartan still rues the loss of Damien Rafferty, who has been out for some time but whom he continues to regard as one of the best man-markers in the business.
McCartan, no stranger to injuries since the start of the year, must now amend his half-back line as well as restructure his full-forward line for what he feels will be “a very difficult game.”
McCartan says: “The fact that Declan Rooney has been trying to get game time wherever he can is encouraging in terms of our half-back line.
“Obviously we have gaps to plug but there are players who are pushing strongly for starting places and their level of commitment and enthusiasm gives us encouragement.
“But any manager would always love to have his most experienced players available to him for what he would see as a very difficult game.
“Damien Rafferty, who has been able to mark players of the calibre of David Kelly, ‘Gooch’ Cooper and others in the past, continues to be a grievous loss to our defence.
“That type of player is not easily replaced but we are not the only team with injury worries and we just have to get on with facing the challenge that is in front of us.”