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Benny Coulter's flare can be driving force for Down

By John Campbell

Kevin McKernan, whose powerhouse performance initially at wing-forward and subsequently at midfield underpinned Down's stirring performance against Tyrone in Sunday's drawn Ulster Championship game, believes that Benny Coulter can provide the inspiration for the team to go one better in Saturday's preliminary round replay at Pairc Esler, Newry.

Burren clubman McKernan found himself drafted in alongside the 31-year-old Coulter for the second-half at Healy Park, Omagh, and is convinced that the veteran's attitude, commitment and pride will permeate the entire Down side from the outset next weekend.

"I think that Benny has a massive presence in the changing-room and out on the field of play. He goes for the ball like a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old and sets a great example," points out McKernan.

"He is a great player for us and we are just thankful that at this stage of his career he can give us at least 35 minutes and indeed I feel sure he could give us more. He is well fit for that."

Coulter's energy and enthusiasm shone through in the drawn game in which he highlighted a towering performance by grabbing a typical trademark point from play at a crucial stage.

"That's just Benny," smiles McKernan.

"He will pop up and get you a score when you most need it. He is a great man to have at your side in the heat of battle."

Coulter has spent a dozen years in the Down colours without having achieved any success in the Ulster Championship.

He has never made any secret of his desire to lift a provincial medal and must surely have thought he was inching closer to achieving his objective when Down led by two points going into injury-time on Sunday.

McKernan added: "I think maybe we all thought we could get over the line but the last two points from Sean Cavanagh saved Tyrone.

"Still, as our manager James McCartan says, we would have taken a draw before the game and we have to accept that.

"We have not had the opportunity to host too many championship matches at Newry and now that we are getting the chance to stage a game of this magnitude, we aim to make the most of it."

While referee David Coldrick found himself under fire from both teams on Sunday, McKernan takes the view that the whistler's role in a high-octane championship encounter is particularly demanding.

"Obviously it was annoying that Tyrone benefited from a last-ditch free but we have to move on. To be fair, things happen at a very fast pace in a championship match and it's hard for referees to see everything," points out McKernan.

"When you are in the heat of battle you can't be thinking of such things. I know now that there was criticism of the referee from Down and Tyrone but in the grand scheme of things things probably evened themselves out."

"We're going back to Newry now which has always been a happy hunting ground for us in terms of championship football and I hope there is a packed ground there to get behind us. We will certainly be up for the challenge."

McKernan accepts that Down must hit the ground running in the replay, aware that Tyrone will be much more guarded.

"In championship football there are periods in which you will dominate games and there are periods in which you won't dominate but you can't let the opposition off the leash," maintains Burren clubman McKernan.

"It was disappointing the way things worked out for us in the first-half last Sunday but we made the changes and that helped us.

"The panel is the best it has been for a long time and that's saying something when you consider that players like Kalum King and Marty Clarke are not there and that we have a few injuries.

Belfast Telegraph


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